Acknowledging Our Privilege
You know how the gold standard response when talking to men about misogyny and sexism and violence against women is "Not All Men"? Like, when you quote the statistic about the number of women who survive rape or attempted rape in college (that would be 1 in 4 women. ONE OUT OF EVERY FOUR), and instead of horror the response you get is "But not all men are rapists!" Or like, when some men read this, they'll be like, "I don't do that! NOT ALL MEN DO THAT!!" You know that "not all" problem? It's still rampant. And I'm hearing it everywhere.
I keep running across people who insist that they are not prejudiced while "Not All"-ing all over the place. And let me tell you something: That’s some bullshit.
If you feel compelled to say, “Yeah, but not all blah blah blah” while defending your own privilege, you are indeed _____ist. Sexist, racist, classist, whatever. You are prejudiced. You might be well-meaning, and you might have no idea that you’re intolerant, but you are. And you need to recognize it and learn from it.
Image Credit: Everyday Feminism
So what is privilege? In this case, we're talking about identity privilege. Everyday Feminism provides a handy dandy definition of identity privilege: "Any unearned benefit or advantage one receives in society by nature of their identity. Examples of aspects of identity that can afford privilege: Race, Religion, Gender Identity, Sexual Orientation, Class/Wealth, Ability, or Citizenship Status" Here’s the thing: If you are white, OR if you are a man, OR if you are straight, OR if you are rich, OR if you are CIS, or many many other things… then you are benefitting from privilege. Those of us benefitting from privilege DO NOT get to explain away our privilege. We do not get to decide what is and is not okay or offensive. If you are a man, you can’t tell me what is and is not sexist. I am white, so I do not get to say what is and is not racist. You get the drift.
Yet I continue to see so many people doing just that. Trying to explain away privilege and justify prejudice. It’s painful, folks.
If you are white and your black friend has just posted an article on social media about "nice" racism using a particular joke as an example, and you jump in there and say, “Oh, but that joke was super funny and definitely not racist,” THAT IS RACIST. You are proving the point. You are whitesplaining, my friend.
If you are a man and a woman tells you that catcalling is offensive and even frightening and you say, “Oh, but you should be upset. It’s a compliment! It’s because you’re so pretty! Shake it off!” THAT IS SEXIST. You are proving the point. You are mansplaining, my friend.
If you are typically abled and you say, “That’s retarded,” and someone calls you out on it, you do not get to say “It’s just a joke!” It’s not. It’s hurtful and offensive and continues to subjugate those who are not typically abled.
You cannot defend your own privilege. You cannot get protective and touchy about it. What you CAN do is learn from it.* You can listen to the people around you. You can listen when people tell you things are hurtful or offensive or frightening or threatening. You can watch people's faces when you say something that may have been borderline, and apologize. You can stop writing things off as “jokes” when they are really giving away your own prejudice and bias.
This is not political correctness. This is kindness. This is humanity. This is respect. This is giving a shit about how your words and actions affect other people in this world. Think about it. And stop saying “not all,” in order to defend your privilege. It’s tired and ridiculous.
* If you want to see a solid example of what it looks like when someone acknowledges and starts to address their privilege, watch this clip of Stephen Colbert with DeRay Mckesson, a Black Lives Matter activist. (Yes, I really wish he'd had this discussion with one of the WOMEN that started Black Lives Matter, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, but you know.... OTPBS.)