On Privilege

June 25, 2014 § Leave a comment

I was recently in a situation where something blatantly both tasteless and racist occurred, through the actions of one individual.  This individual apologised, heartfully and seriously.  Most accepted his apology, including at least some of the aggrieved.  But, in the aftermath of the apology, I overheard people complaining that “some people need to learn to take a joke” and so on.  Oddly enough, it was always white, middle class people saying things like that.

In response to my previous posting on why we need feminism, I got trolled on Twitter, by men, telling me that women bring on rape, sexual assault, and other unwanted attention themselves.  In the past, these kinds of trollings have also led to me being called names that challenge my manliness.

Racist jokes are not funny.  Nor are threats of rape.  Same for homophobic comments.  And yet, some white people, some men, and some heterosexual people think they are.  This, my friends, is privilege.  The worst thing about privilege is that most people with it do not realise they have it.  I don’t honestly think that many people who laugh at racist/misogynist/homophobic jokes are actually racist/misogynist/homophobic.  They’re not trying to offend, oppress, or hurt other people.  And yet, they do.  Without realising it.  And quite often, when they realise it, they get defensive and say things like “some people need to learn how to take a joke.”

Privilege is usually blind, those with it don’t see it, don’t understand all the advantages they’ve earned due to a calculus of skin colour, gender, sexuality, and class status.  Take, for example, Julian Casablancas, the frontman of New York rock band The Strokes.  Casablancas is the son of John Casablancas, a rich businessman and founder of the Elite Model Management group.  Casablancas as a new solo project, called “Tyranny,” and in the press release, he says,

Tyranny has come in many forms throughout history. Now, the good of business is put above anything else, as corporations have become the new ruling body. Most decisions seem to be made like ones of a medieval king: whatever makes profit while ignoring and repressing the truth about whatever suffering it may cause (like pop music, for that matter).

Meanwhile, in England, comedian Russell Brand is trying to stir the people up against their government, to protest, to demand accountability.  On the one hand, I admire Casablancas and Brand for their rabble-rousing, but both live incredibly privileged lives.  Both are very wealthy men, and both of them have earned a lot of money due to the very things they are protesting, power relations and corporations.  And they are apparently being unironic in their new stances.

Privilege is a funny thing.  We live in a culture where some talk of “mindfulness”, and yet do not practice it.  In order to be aware of privilege, we need to be aware of it.  Be aware of the advantages we have gained in life due to that nexus of skin colour, gender, sexuality, and class.  There are hierarchies all across society and there are hierarchies within sub-cultures.  And we need to be aware of power and privilege.

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