I'm a Diversity Peer Educator at our Cross Cultural Center at UCSD, and this is what I've decided to do for my Self-Initiated Project. This is going to be a discussion of conversations or events, mostly at UCSD but other places aren't off limits, that demonstrate some unacknowledged privilege. Being an able-bodied, cisgendered white male from an upper class background, I have plenty of opportunities to ignore my various privileges. This is an attempt to call myself, and those who share these privileged identities, out. I'm also queer and Jewish, and while this may occasionally discuss the privileges that people have because they're straight or Christian, the focus will hopefully stay on privileges I myself embody.
The point of this is to encourage different forms of allyship and give people tools to become better allies. It's not to make people feel guilty for having privilege, or for publicly shaming anyone.
I'd also like to point out that, because I've learned all this stuff in college, it's a representation of my own privilege that I'm even able to talk like this and use this kind of language and terminology.
Please ask questions, repost, comment, discuss, and call me out on things that I end up perpetuating. This is supposed to be interactive; otherwise it's just me lecturing. Especially feel free to call me out; I'm hardly an authority, and I really do appreciate opportunities to learn more about how to check myself.
Visitors since April 12 2011 (when I started tracking it)
This blog was part of my Cross Cultural Center internship SIP (Self-Initiated Project), which ended when I graduated in June of 2011. I enjoyed it immensely, learned a lot, and I also know I was somewhat successful in introducing readers to new ways of thinking about their various privileges. I was also called out plenty, which I appreciate.
I wish I’d chosen a different blog format from the beginning; Tumblr doesn’t really lend itself to discussion, more to reblogging with a small comment added. And my goal wasn’t just to put things out there and expect people to agree with me and spread my words around.
There are also lots of topics that were never covered here. Political affiliation, appropriate roles for allies, monoracial and cisracial privileges, oppression olympics, and intersectionality are just some of the things I wish I’d gotten to. I’m not planning on posting on any of those here, though, since the project is over and I don’t want people to keep thinking this is still a Cross Cultural Center project. I miss blogging about these things, though, and once I get the motivation to start something up without as many self-imposed rules (since the exercise was to talk about privilege, I purposely didn’t write about my identities that don’t give me privilege, which is a limitation I wouldn’t want for just a personal blog), I’ll post the page here. But there will be no more posts, I’m going to disable comments as well since I won’t be actively on here any more.
For everyone who read, reposted, commented, etc., thank you. It really means a lot to me that you found it worth your time.
This is a common, but silly and unproductive, response to an accusation of racism.If you don’t mind people interpreting your actions as racist, the rest of this post isn’t for you, but if you do, and you find yourself in this situation, try the following instead of using the “black friends” line of defense:
1)Remember it’s most likely about the one action you made or comment you said,not about your moral character or whether you’re a white supremacist.People can still perpetuate racism and do racist things if they aren’t white supremacists.
2)If someone told you that you offended them, apologize; even if you didn’t mean it, and/or don’t understand why they might find it offensive, the point is that you offended them and that you’re genuinely sorry (I assume you don’t like offending friends and acquaintances).So convey that.“I’m so sorry; I didn’t mean to offend you.”
a.If you can see the problem with what you said or did, say so.“I hadn’t thought of it like that, but I can see what you’re saying; thank you for pointing it out to me.I’ll try to watch myself better in the future.”
b.If you don’t understand what was racist about what you said/did, don’t pretend that you do, because that’s not helpful.Depending on the situation, you can say “I really don’t mean to perpetuate racism, but I’d like to know how what I said/did was racist; would you mind explaining it to me further?” either in that moment (understanding that you’re possibly dramatically changing the conversation), or you can have a private conversation with the person afterwards.Understand that they areallowed to say ‘no.’That doesn’t mean you’ll never know, though; google search it, ask some other people, read some antiracist blogs; there are ways of finding out.
3)If someone is speaking up on behalf of someone else, like you’re with a bunch of other white people and one of them says “you know, that comment was kind of racist,” apologizing still works.When I point out to people that the word ‘gypped’ is offensive to Roma (who are pejoratively known as ‘gypsies’), the appropriate response I get from people (to my knowledge, I’ve never been around someone who’s Roma when telling someone this) is “Wow I had no idea; that’s really interesting, and I’ll try to watch my language more in the future.Thank you for pointing it out to me.”Not something like “What?!People aren’t allowed to be offended over that.”
4)Think of it like this: if someone points out a booger hanging out your nose, you’d address it and move on, instead of demanding that they acknowledge that you don’t normally have boogers hanging out your nose, and getting a bunch of friends to testify that your nose is normally so clean you could eat off it, and changing the whole conversation to be about your nasal hygiene.
I just read this quote in “Lies My Teacher Told Me” (a wonderful book I recommend to everyone), and I think it’s great. I think it’s awesome that as Helen Keller traveled and learned about more and more other people, she seriously questioned the meritocracy theme so common in American society. She was genuinely accomplished, and must have put in an insane amount of work to overcome her disabilities, co-found the ACLU, and be an outspoken radical socialist, for example. But recognizing that even with her disabilities, she had a degree of privilege that allowed her to do everything is admirable. I feel like many of us with privileged identities choose to ignore them and to only focus on those identities that are not privileged, and which cause us to be the targets of oppression. I think a responsible person has an understanding of all their identities, not just the ones that are easy to think of and think about.
Here’s a short list of identities to really consider; ability (emotional, mental and physical), age, appearance, citizenship, class, ethnicity, family role, gender, race, religion, sex, and sexuality. Consider how they’re interconnected. Consider how many boxes you, versus someone else, might want to check off in each category. Consider things like how your daily life is affected by these things, like what you can eat at an event and what someone else can’t, or how easy it is for you to find other people like you.
As a tall, bearded white man, I’m generally pretty safe walking around at night. Many female bodied individuals do not, however, and can frequently be targeted by people who look like me. So when I’m walking around at night, in the same direction as a woman walking by herself just in front of me, for example, what do I do to not contribute to her feeling unsafe? This comes up with me pretty frequently walking back from the Hillcrest shuttle to my apartment. I used to try to get out the shuttle door first and just walking ahead of everyone, but that didn’t always work. When it failed, I’d try passing the women so I was in front, and then they could see me, and it’d be all good. I then realized I, tall bearded white man, was basically running towards these women walking alone at night. So then I tried doing the same thing, except silently, but that made it even creepier. A friend of mine then gave me a suggestion, which I’m passing on to all of you.
Cross the street. It’s so simple and so brilliant and I felt like such a complete idiot for not thinking of it myself, but there you go. If your appearance might look threatening to someone, and you’re walking in the same direction, just walk on the other side of the street. The point in me sharing this back story is to be more open about my path away from sheer cluelessness, hopefully to inspire other men who might be feeling clueless. Not that I’m no longer clueless, that is; I’ve just happened to make some progress on this.
And by the way, I apologize if I’ve sounded paternalistic or anything in this post; I don’t mean to imply that I should check my male privilege because of women’s physical inferiority; I should check it because we live in a sexist society where women are the targets of certain forms of violence and thus I should actively change my behavior to reflect that sucky reality.
Here’s a short-ish list of the facebook groups I’m in and the email lists I’m on that keep me updated on lots of the activism happening at UCSD. They’re in alphabetical order, and each is a hyperlink to the page where you’d be able to join. Many of them have given me good information about what students are organizing around, and if you’re interested in knowing, I suggest at least subscribing to the 3 Campus Community Centers’ e-newsletters. This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list; it’s things I’m personally in, although I didn’t completely comb through my 100+ facebook groups so I might have missed some. Please feel free to supplement links etc. in the comments section.
Being in facebook groups and on email lists is a great way to educate yourself about what a community or org is organizing around without going to the meetings and possibly being disruptive; some of these orgs might be closed spaces, or prefer to be closed except for funding issues. Some might be open. And some might be in a nebulous, ambiguous area. If the groups or lists themselves are closed, I suggest that you apply to be in them, and don’t be offended if you’re not allowed in. With facebook’s new groups format, for example, a lot of orgs are rethinking the role of their groups and might switch them to being closed, which, if it’s not your org or community, you should be fine with because it’s other people’s org/group to do what they want with.
Oh and yes, as you can imagine, this represents a lot of emails and facebook messages.
Wayne repeated this tonight in his speech at the Senior Sendoff (hosted by the Cross Cultural Center, Women’s Center, LGBT Resource Center, and SPACES), and I found it really poignant and wanted to share. I think it applies when it comes to allyship in 2 ways.
The first, and most important, is that a good ally does NOT blindly critique the majority at every possible turn. I’ve heard plenty of well-meaning white people combine some odd understandings of critical race theory, critical gender theory, and pseudo-Marxist philosophy to say some really ridiculous things that simply don’t make sense. If you run around spouting nonsense in an attempt to defend a certain community, you’re not helping anyone, and might actually be hindering the cause, no matter how down you claim to be. Coming up with your own nonsense isn’t supportive.
Secondly, blindly believing whichever community or people you know with x identity when they talk about history or sociology or the law doesn’t make you a good ally either; communities frequently aren’t fully united in an understanding of anything, and taking heavy and serious theory at face value from everyone is going to lead to some contradictions at some point. Also, it makes your allyship and your understanding of things that much more powerful when you go out and do your own research; look into those laws, historical accounts (getting as many primary sources as possible), and news stories. It makes you a more knowledgeable speaker on a subject, and thus puts you in a better position to defend a point you’re trying to make about a social injustice.
Try to define sexuality positively (by what someone does like) instead of negatively (what someone doesn’t like). For example, I’m gay because I like men, not because I hate women. In fact, women don’t really have anything to do with my sexuality. Being repulsed by certain genitalia or bodies or whatever isn’t part of sexuality; sexuality’s about attraction. If you’re a bored gay man, don’t fill the air time with jokes about how vaginas have teeth, or how glad you are you were born via C-section. If you’re a straight woman, think of something to spontaneously say besides how gross you’d find kissing another woman to be. If you’re a lesbian or a straight man, don’t talk as if touching a(nother) man’s junk is the worst thing imaginable.
This concept’s really helped me in my allyship towards bi people since a friend introduced it to me; remembering that my sexuality’s about being attracted to men, not being repulsed by women, makes it easier to understand people whose sexuality is about being attracted to more than one gender.
I saw someone wearing this t shirt on campus the other day, and I was able to find it on ebay. I think casual jokes about how much alcohol helps someone have sex are almost entirely made by men. But there’s more than just male privilege happening; men who have been sexually assaulted (yes, despite stereotypes and anatomy, it’s possible to sexually assault a man, even without penetrating him) are probably pretty unlikely to joke about stuff like this. It’s gross and it just serves to make sexual assault into a laughing matter, along the lines of saying you raped a test or a video game. People: stop making sexual assault a joke!
This one’s a classic. Almost everyone I know who says this is talking about how they find identities like ‘Mexican American’ or ‘African American’ or ‘Asian American’ or ‘Vietnamese American’ - combining a racial or ethnic or cultural identity with American nationality - to be unnecessary or even threatening. It’s easy for a white person to have this attitude; white people in America are viewed as not having a culture, and being devoid of ethnicity. Given this, it’s understandable for a white person to draw the conclusion “I don’t need a special culture or ethnic identity to describe myself; ‘American’ is good enough for me. If it’s not good enough for them, they must want something special that I don’t have access to, and that’s just not fair.” I know I came to a similar conclusion at one point.
What I hadn’t been made aware of is how whiteness is viewed as the mainstream norm in America. It’s almost all white people that we get to learn about in school. The history books ignore the accomplishments of people of color in favor of talking about white accomplishments (1), and they ignore the exploitation and abuse of people of color by white people (2). Other ways our society is Eurocentric include our white standards of beauty, our ideas of what just counts as ‘art’ or ‘literature’ or ‘food’ and what counts as ‘ethnic’ or ‘cultural’ art or literature or food, and what select societies or cultures we label as ‘civilized.’ Given all that and more, it makes sense for a white person to feel like ‘American’ describes much of their identity, while many people of color find it somewhat lacking. Understanding this involves understanding America’s imperfections; critiquing something as personal as nationality can be incredibly uncomfortable, especially without a previous framework for it. For anyone who doesn’t understand why ‘just American’ just doesn’t work for some people, I hope you’re able to get to a place where you’re not too uncomfortable questioning these things. Ask me for more examples, or to elaborate (I’m trying to keep this short because people read these things on their iPhones), or for some other resources.
(1) Pre-Columbian contact between the Americas and Africa, and the Phoenician rounding of the Cape of Good Hope centuries before the Portuguese did it are good examples
(2) Columbus’ taking of wealth, land, and labor of the native Arawak of Haiti, and his introduction of the transatlantic slave trade, and the white people who dropped dynamite on a black ghetto out of an airplane during a riot in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921, killing 75 people and destroying over 1,100 homes, are good examples. And yes, 1 and 2 are both from Lies My Teacher Told Me, which I’m currently reading.
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But, if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” ~Lilla Watson
I quite like this quote. It shouldn’t be understood in a selfish ‘because I might be next’ way, but recognizes that if people are authentically invested and passionate, then the work they’ll want to accomplish will be done as equals. “Here, let me help you” seems patronizing and it’s not a helpful attitude.