What Happens When You Lack Privilege

In 1988, feminist Peggy McIntosh published the groundbreaking essay, “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies.” The most notable excerpt from the essay was “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” a selection in which McIntosh outlined specific privileges that most White individuals, including herself, experience on a daily basis. McIntosh’s work was so compelling because of her strong ability to recognize and critically analyze the privileges that the dominant group has experienced since the inception of this country. Privilege has been so ingrained in the fabric of America that, as McIntosh argued, it has become invisible. Similar to air, privilege is something that is not always visibly seen but still ever so present. And just as air is needed for survival, privilege is needed for the dominant group to maintain power and control.

McIntosh was one of few academics during the 80s who was brave enough to note how she engages in and benefits from privileges that are not afforded to all groups of people. Sadly 26 years after her essay, there are still people who are not as forthcoming about how they exercise and benefit from their privilege on a daily basis, either because it’s become so normal that they don’t realize it or that they are refusing to acknowledge it. And what’s so scary about privilege today is that if one is being called out for it, he/she sometimes plays the victim and even go as far as to say there is nothing wrong with privilege. But then again…privilege enables such arguments. I believe that some individuals have forgotten (or simply are unaware of) the manifestations of privilege. I’ve observed some occurrences in the past few months and have included them as a friendly update of how privilege continues to work in some groups’ favor while being deleterious to others. Instead of highlighting the advantages, I’ve decided to focus on what happens when you are not afforded that “special entitlement.” Essentially, it’s what happens when you become disadvantaged by others’ ability to exercise rights that you do not possess.

-Going to jail because you are struggling with drug addiction and had a child. However, there are minimal rehabilitation centers in your area and/or you can’t afford those services
-Going to jail because you can’t afford childcare and you need to work and/or find work to support your family
-Having your name posted and bashed on a website for being “the girl who ratted”
-Not being able to enter a business because you have on a hoodie
-Losing your life for not walking on the sidewalk
-Being raped by a police officer because you are a Black woman
-Not having your rapist brought to justice because of rape backlogs
-Not being able to call an event a Swahili name because it’s feared that it won’t be welcoming to the entire campus
-Losing funding because your organization does not appeal to the dominant group
-Not being able to afford a restaurant that someone picked out as a meeting place to discuss cases of injustices, including economic disparities
-Not being fully accepted by your family because your skin is darker and the community in which you live is racially intolerant
-Not being able to secure a job because you do not have a European name
-Not being able to get support for a film because you lack a White hero
-Not being informed of effective treatment for a deadly disease until individuals from another country and race become infected
-Not being offered effective treatment for a deadly disease because of your race and class
-Being labeled an “angry Black woman” for addressing pertinent issues that affect Black women
-Not receiving support for the leakage of nude images though support was offered a few days earlier to a woman of a different race
-Not achieving much success in the rap industry because someone has taken what you’ve worked hard to create, misrepresented it but still is highly profitable
-Not being able to have an initiative for your concerns while your male counterparts do
-Working a minimum wage job that pays $7.25 an hour and you have a family of 4
-Having to take a drug test to receive government assistance
-Being laid off from your job because you took time off for chemotherapy
-Being discouraged from applying to a job because you have a disability
-Being pulled over because you’re Black and you’re driving through a wealthy neighborhood
-Going to jail for protesting to raise the minimum wage to $15
-Going to jail for seeking justice for an unarmed teenager who was killed at the hands of a police officer
-Having to take measures such as carrying around a mattress to prove a point because your college refuses to properly address your sexual assault
-Being suspended multiple times for the same behaviors that your White counterparts display. However, they just get a phone call home
-Being told to talk “proper” English, insinuating that the way you talk is wrong though it’s part of your culture
-Being told that affluenza is a logical defense for all the behaviors that the White privileged engage in to marginalize other groups of people (like really)

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“Women Stop Emasculating Men”

While on social media sites, whether Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, I frequently come across posts that describe how recent generations have deviated from norms that have been embedded in society for centuries. In particular, the norm that my contemporaries seem to greatly defy is an adherence to the traditional roles of women and men. Women in 2014 live drastically different lives than they did in the mid 20th century. With hit TV shows such as Scandal that has a female lead and Beyoncé’s release of “Run the World” and “Flawless,” two songs that highlight women’s empowerment, it seems that we are transitioning into an era in which women are becoming more comfortable with asserting and embracing their independence. It’s no longer uncommon for a woman to establish and sustain a source of income based off of her own skills and education. It’s no longer uncommon for a woman to seek and gain visibility in the public sphere. Overall, it appears that millennials are more accepting of women taking on roles that expand past the traditional ones of wife and mother.

Instead of all viewing this as growth, some perceive the shift as a downfall. In the last past week, I’ve encountered a significant amount of posts that discuss how a woman displaying independence is a disadvantage to society. She (an independent woman) is destroying the nuclear family unit by embracing autonomy. She is “emasculating the man” by trying to be self-sufficient. She is ruining her children’s lives and is one reason why males become trapped on the pipeline to prison. Though these statements may seem far-fetched, they are ones that I’ve read and also heard in conversations. Apparently (though not surprisingly and definitely not new) there are people who believe that women’s empowerment aka feminism is a wolf in sheep’s clothing: at first glance it appears to be advantageous (especially coming from a time when women couldn’t vote or own land), but in actuality, it’s a threat to the lifestyle that our society has become accustomed to for years.

The lifestyle that feminism is so threatening to (and what some people are trying to salvage before there is “total destruction”) is one in which men subjugate women. When people argue that “women should let men be men and stop trying to take on their role, ” they are really saying, “let’s uphold patriarchy and keep women in a subordinate position.” Though it’s often phrased that feminism is a threat to the well-being of families and children, it really is seen as a threat to men and men only. This is because in order for women to have autonomy, men must give up some of the privilege and power that they have always held. They must agree to the social, economic, and political equality of women and recognize and accept them as their own agents. Feminism, just as other ideologies that aim to eradicate injustices, challenges a system that people have assimilated into for so long that some will guard it off in order to maintain an order that is not only deeply rooted in society, but in minds as well. Therefore, a change can be viewed as an affront even if that change is for the freedom of a group of people who have been devalued and dehumanized by the system.

When I hear or read about individuals asserting that women need to stop emasculating men with their independence, I realize how manipulative the system of patriarchy is. It tricks individuals into thinking that the ones who have been victimized are the perpetrators. It suggests that women’s empowerment is crippling and a disadvantage to men even though they are the ones who have historically maintained power and control. It shows that injustice is acceptable because when men declare independence they are praised, but when women do it they are castigated. Instead of asking women not to emasculate men with their independence, let’s ask men to relinquish some of their privilege and commend women for seeking recognition and freedom after being disparaged for centuries. In reality, patriarchy is detrimental to both women and men as it confines everyone to a rigid position with no room to move or grow. Feminism liberates us from that space and allows us to develop as individuals.

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