Saturday, August 29, 2009

Be Careful of Taking the Easy Road Out

Tonight I want to talk about the concept of privilege. I was going to blog about this on Fat Heffalump but on further thought I think it's about more than just fat discrimination. It's about any kind of discrimination or prejudice.

Let's start with a definition.

privilege: A special advantage, immunity, permission, right or benefit granted to or enjoyed by an individual class or caste.

The context I am talking about today is the idea that any member of a majority has privilege over the minority, and therefore cannot understand, criticise or challenge that minority in their thinking.

I'm going to probably make myself quite unpopular here, but that's ok, I'm used to it. But I really think too many people use the concept of privilege as a cop out when it comes to discussions and debates.

While I do think the concept of privilege is valid, and sometimes yes, someone who is particularly close minded and cloistered in their privilege is never going to get it. But I think all too often those who feel marginalised and are unable to articulate their point just throw their hands up and state "Oh I can't get through to you, you're coming from privilege."

When the truth is, they either want out of the discussion, or don't have a valid argument to continue it. It is often used as the metaphorical equivalent of taking your bat and ball and going home.

Perhaps I see this because technically I live on both sides of the privilege. I am a fat woman, so I do not have privilege on my side in that aspect. But I am also a Christian in Western society, which technically does put me in privilege.

So I've seen it from both sides of the fence so to speak. As I said, I do believe there are instances when people just simply cannot understand or they use their privilege to silence those in the minority. But I think that those of us who are in the minority for whatever reason need to be very careful about how we use the cry of privilege.

Do we we really want to end up being the boys and girls who cried wolf?


Erik Veland said...

We live in an age of entitlement. It's like the age of enlightenment. Except nobody is.

Anonymous said...

I think you might be mixing up "cop out" with "disengagement because this discussion/debate is not good for [whomever is removing themselves from the debate]"

By assuming that people who choose to disengage from a debate to retain their headspace/mental health/whatever are simply crying privilege is in fact a privileged position.

Since you've mentioned that you identify as Christian, and as such are part of a significantly privileged group, let's use that as an example.

Christian: "Opinion".
Non-Christian/non-religious person: "Differing opinion".

Debate ensues.

Non-Christian/non-religious person: "I am exiting this debate because it is not good for me; you are coming from a privileged position and are not willing to address that."

Christian person: "Don't cry privilege at me!"

Can you see where I'm coming from? Plenty of privileged and non-privileged groups can have productive conversations, if the privileged group is willing to hear and to listen.

And I'm so glad that you are condescending to validate the concept of privilege - although you frame it in such a way as to come across as quite disdainful of the concept. I chose a couple of statements from the "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack II", and adjusted them.

# I do not have to fear that if my family or friends find out about my Christianity there will be economic, emotional, physical or psychological consequences.
# I did not grow up with games that attack my Christianity.
# I am not accused of being abused, warped or psychologically confused because of my Christianity.
# I am never asked to speak for everyone who is Christian.
# People don't ask why I made my choice of Christianity.
# People don't ask why I made my choice to be public about my Christianity.

The original Unpacking the Privilege Knapsack, based on race, is pretty important to read as well.

I can understand that you want to engage and debate and discuss - that's great. But it isn't fair to smear those who choose to disengage as "crying privilege".

Sleepydumpling said...

cutselvage I'm not saying that privilege doesn't exist and that sometimes it does reach that point. I thought I made that perfectly clear in this post.

I'm saying that it's sometimes USED as the easy option out. I could have used it myself so many times on the fat/feminist argument, and actually if I'm truly honest with myself, I think perhaps I have, instead of discussing a valid point. I've called it "disengagement" too, but I think I too have copped out.

Any disdain, condescension or contempt you read is in your own interpretation, not my words.

I just believe it's abused sometimes, and we need to be careful not to end up crying wolf.

I should have used the fact that I'm white or heterosexual as an example of my privilege, it seems that NOBODY can look past the word "Christian" without getting their dander up.

It was merely an example of how someone can be on both sides. This particular post had nothing to do with faith, it was just the first example of an area that I have privilege in (also white, employed, financially comfortable, heterosexual, etc) as opposed to those that I do not (female, fat, and others that are personal). Doesn't matter what the examples are, it stands the same.

Erik - eloquent statement, I may use it sometime.

Tiara said...

As someone who has been on the other end of that argument - sometimes we disengage because we're going around in circles and we're still not getting through to you. Our job is not to educate you on your privilege. We're always expected to be the Educators of Privileged Folk About their Obligations and for god's sake we've never signed on to that.

At some point you got to recognise that some people just can't be reasoned with. It's like talking to a brick wall. Dismissing those who feel this frustation as "taking the bat and ball and going home" is dimissing their exhaustion and their effort, having to deal with people's expectations every time.

Sleepydumpling said...

I'm not sure you're reading what I am saying.

Again, I am not saying privilege doesn't exist, or that there aren't times when someone is justified in opting out.

What I am saying is that SOMETIMES people abuse that concept. And for any of us who are of a minority (which each of us here are in this case), we need to THINK before we cry "Privilege!" Do not use it as a passive-aggressive technique of ending a genuine discussion because things are not going the way that we would like.

The assumption that a majority must ALWAYS be in the wrong because they are of privilege is as prejudiced and narrow-minded as the behaviour one is supposedly railing against.

Again, I use the crying wolf analogy. Be very careful of double standards. You can't expect someone to listen to your side of the discussion if you are not willing to listen to theirs. Particularly if you are the instigator of the discussion.

However if you HAVE listened, and you still find this unacceptable, then yes, this is when someone is perfectly justified in opting out.

Sleepydumpling said...

Incidentally, this is the third time I've explained my point, which I do think is quite enough.

So I will only address fresh perspective from this point on in the comments, rather than just saying the same thing in varying ways.

If you think I'm saying that privilege doesn't exist and that it's not valid to take a step back sometimes, you're thinking wrong and please read my article and comments again.


Anonymous said...

Oh for... I chose Christianity as an example because that tends be what you tend to debate about on Twitter, which is how I found this post. You are damned well aware that you can substitute your race, sexual orientation or financial position, but chose to get butthurt over the fact that I used religion as an example? To me that screams that you suffer from some kind of persecution complex.

I think you are being incredibly disingenuous, frankly. It's 'sometimes' okay to disengage from a discussion? If someone feels like they are not having a productive debate, do they have to ask your permission to exit? Or if they disengage without falling over themselves to explain to you why, are you just going to continue to sit in your ivory tower, wanking about how minorities can't handle the debate?

I honestly have no idea how to explain how dismissive your position is. It's incredibly offensive.

I am going to exit this conversation; it's clearly not productive for either of us.

Tiara said...

Certainly some people use it as a copout, but whose call is that to make? Who gets to decide whether it's a copout or not?

definatalie said...

Fat people hear the same things all the time. So do atheists. Fatigue sets in, and we realise that it's not on us to defend ourselves just for the sake of existing and exerting our existence. This is when I disengage.

We are not beholden to absolutely anyone to debate anything. It is a basic human right to disengage when a discussion becomes redundant and circular, to avoid escalation and aggression or maybe even to try and salvage an acquaintanceship. From an evolutionary standpoint, this is an incredible diplomatic skill-set the human species has developed over thousands of years in order to live together. Yet some of us like to pretend we're not evolved.

It's my responsibility when I disengage, to not continue the argument in a passive aggressive manner. I might have done that by changing my avatar, but some of the things I've heard about me personally... they're hurtful.

You might be hurt as a christian (the LARGEST religious denomination in the world!) but I feel you've hurt me as a person. I can't respect you for that and nor should I be expected to be the "bigger person" for the sake of your entitlement.

This is the last you'll hear from me, but if we chance a meeting you can rely on my respectful and silent civility. Which, I think, I'm being awfully fair about.

Sleepydumpling said...

Clearly you are taking something personally that has NOTHING to do with any personal argument or discussion or even an event. You have decided to be upset and hurt over something else and you're projecting that onto this post.

I am not "butthurt", I'm not offended, angry or even riled up. It's a simple post on my experience and my observation. There is no animosity or anger here on my behalf, though I do find the whole subsequent childishnes irritating I will admit.

It seems that there are a lot of people who seem to see any disagreement with them as a personal slight on their character. News flash - you are not right all of the time, none of us are. Not only is it OK to be wrong, but it's also OK to have people disagree with you. Learn that, it's part of being an adult.

As I said, I chose the wrong example, simply because I should have realised that someone (well, several of you) would tie it to a particular discussion because you all have your dander up over it.

To clarify, the reason I was prompted to post this article was NOT about any discussion I had on Twitter (though it did influence my thinking as I wrote it) but about a discussion that was had on my OTHER blog about fat acceptance (re male/female privilege), but I thought it was a broader topic than just about fat acceptance.

But to be honest I really don't need to justify that to you or anyone else.

Clearly there are a group of people who are taking something very personally and projecting that on to EVERYTHING I do.

LET GO people, grow up and realise the whole world doesn't revolve around you or your little circle. It's a great big place this world and if anyone is in an ivory tower, it isn't me.

This was not a personal slight at anyone as some of you seem to have taken it as. I've not made any personal comments about ANYONE (though it seems to be ok for some of you to accuse me of living in an "ivory tower" or being "butthurt" - nice double standards there.)

And if you can't come here and discuss things without making it personal... well... the door is that way - don't let it hit your arse on the way out. This is not A Clockwork Orange - you're not forced with your eyeballs taped open to read my blog.

If you're furthering this whole thing just to connect it to a discussion that it technically has nothing to do with, I shall delete your comments. Because it's IRRELEVANT.

Jha said...

Or maybe, they don't want to engage because:

1) they're way too exhausted to do so. Arguing against privilege can be emotionally exhausting, as you may know, since you've probably (hopefully) engaged in some fair share of arguing against Dunderheads Who Don't Get It.

2) they're kinda busy. I'm sure you've hit a point where you WOULD like to continue the argument but you... just have other shit to do.

3) they don't have the tools to do so. This is not uncommon either. Maybe they know what their position is but haven't learnt how to articulate it properly. Maybe they're simply unused to debating and leave off. But if they don't engage, they'll never build the skills to actually see the argument through.

4) they genuinely don't feel they can engage with you, for whatever reason. It may be a problem with us, maybe it's a problem with you.

Surely you must have had moments where you think, "is this person really just naive, or are they just trolling me?"

After a lot of those, it can get hard to believe that everyone arguing against the privilege concept is arguing in good faith. After a thousand tiny papercuts, some people give up and assume guilt until proven innocence.

That's really about it. I mean, sure, I won't discount the possibility of the marginalized pulling some abuse of it. But at the same time, your post reads a bit like a post about false rape allegations. How often do you think that's going to happen? Why would you think a marginalized person would speak out just to undergo discrediting?

So I'll trust you're actually arguing this in good faith, but at the same time, you have to take it in good faith too, that when we refuse to engage any longer, it's got reasons that have nothing to do with the invalidity of our argument, and everything to do with how much we want to invest in fighting yet another battle.

There's nothing wrong with disengaging. We've got to pick our battles, or else we'll just get worn down. I'm sure you've "copped out" too because you felt that you couldn't see the argument through. I can't see this as a bad thing. You tried to engage. If that's the best you can do, then holding it against you is really counter-productive!

The only thing we can do is just try a little harder next time. But you still have to trust, maybe this time they did try a little harder.

Sleepydumpling said...

I see Natalie has posted while I was composing my own last post.

Natalie - this has nothing to do with YOU and never did have. That is all you need to know.

If you've decided to take this blog post as a personal attack on you, there is nothing I can do about that, because you won't hear otherwise.

And your deputies have also taken on that stance, and very erroneously.

I know passive-aggressiveness is the default action many people take and expect, but be careful of assuming that EVERYONE is of that behaviour.

This discussion ends HERE.

Jha said...

So I'm totally going to make this about me, but, I'm not one of this Nat person's friends, just got linked somewhere. As I said, I was trusting you were arguing in good faith. But in your own post, you pretty much said, "do not dis-engage" and then when something happened you didn't like, you shut down conversation.

I know this is your blog and I'll respect that, so this will be the last you hear of me unless you indicate a desire to re-engage, but it really does come across as you dis-engaging, which is contrary to what you wrote about. (Oh, of course, the main thrust of the argument was "do not abuse your position of relative disempowerment", but still, the post still entreats readers not to walk away when we argue.)

Sleepydumpling said...

That's not what the post was saying at all. It was saying "Don't use "privilege" as a passive-aggressive way of ending an argument." That's the crux of it.

I got bored with the whole thing and was getting spammed with drama, thus my disengagement.

Thanks for reading and posting though.