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.


On Uganda’s Homophobic Laws

February 26, 2014 § Leave a comment

Earlier this week, Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, signed a law that toughens the country’s already rampantly homophobic laws, making some sexual acts subject to life in prison.  Being gay was already illegal in Uganda prior to this law being passed.  This law had been under discussion since 2009, and originally called for the death penalty for some sexual acts, and was originally tabled when the European Union objected.  It was revived last year.  President Musveni had flip flopped on whether or not he would sign the law, at one point arguing that gay people were “sick,” but didn’t require imprisonment, but help and treatment.  And just to make it absolutely where Musveni stands on the issue, he clarified his thoughts in this CNN article.  Musveni says:

They’re disgusting. What sort of people are they? I never knew what they were doing. I’ve been told recently that what they do is terrible. Disgusting. But I was ready to ignore that if there was proof that that’s how he is born, abnormal. But now the proof is not there…”I was regarding it as an inborn problem.  Genetic distortion — that was my argument. But now our scientists have knocked this one out.

Charming.  Just charming.

Also in the past week, documentary filmmaker Roger Ross Williams’s new film, God Loves Uganda has been making the rounds.  It is based largely on the undercover work of a Boston-based Anglican (Episcopalian in the US) priest, Kapya Kaoma.  In the film, we learn that missionaries from the Kansas City-based International House of Prayer have been proselytising in Uganda, preaching that God hates LGBT people.  Charming.

All of this is deeply unsettling.  Yesterday, I tweeted this

I immediately got into a discussion on several fronts about the role of these American missionaries in all of this, on several fronts.  I maintain that the IHOP missionaries are disgusting and an afront to humanity, but Uganda is to blame for this.  But I’m writing this to expand what one can say in 140 characters on Twitter.  One, being gay was already illegal in Uganda when the IHOP missionaries began spreading hate.  Two, the IHOP missionaries capitalised on the already extant homophobia in Uganda in their preaching.  And three, Uganda is responsible for its laws.  The missionaries are a handful of people in a nation of 36 million people.

To argue that the missionaries are entirely to blame is wrong-headed to me for several reasons.  First and foremost, it reflects an imperialist mindset to say that American missionaries went to Uganda and taught Ugandans that being gay is a sin and therefore Uganda passed a law that toughened anti-gay measures already in place.  To blame the missionaries removes Ugandan culpability here.  It also says that Ugandans are not capable of forming their own thoughts.  Being gay was already a crime in Uganda before the IHOP missionaries gained a following.  And Uganda is hardly alone in the world in an anti-gay stance.  I point to, say, for example, Russia (interestingly, Russia’s anti-gay laws are also based on conservative Christian thought).  The new law just expanded on earlier ones.

Ultimately, Uganda is responsible for this new law.  Musveni is responsible for signing it.  No missionary held a gun to his head, or bribed him.  It’s his doing.  And it’s entirely consistent with his thoughts on being gay to start with.  And its consistent with Ugandan thought before the advent of the missionaries.


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