Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What NOT having privilege feels like

There's a lot of talk among social activists about privilege, and what precisely privilege is. There are many privilege checklists you can use to see the ways in which society may automatically favor you over someone else (or favor someone else over you.) A simple Google search for white privilege, male privilege, straight privilege, thin privilege or cis privilege should get you plenty of info about what it means to have privilege, from people more eloquent and well-versed on the subject than I.

I want to talk about what it means not to have privilege.

I am a white, English-speaking adult citizen of the United States, and none of my disabilities are outwardly visible.

That is where my privilege ends.

I grew up on welfare, raised by a mother who had multiple disabilities. I am queer, non-Christian, female-bodied, clinically obese, and currently unemployed. I am almost certainly somewhere on the autism spectrum, and I have medical problems that deplete my spoons. I have a hormone condition which means I will never appear "feminine", so that the mere act of cutting my hair prompts what the fuck are you stares on the train.

There are a lot of people who think the world would be a better place if I did not exist.

Let me repeat that, for people who have enough privilege that they don't know what that's like. I am inundated, constantly, with messages that say, underhandedly but quite clearly, you should not exist. Every day, I have to dodge news reports discussing the "obesity epidemic" as though the size of my ass is equivalent to the fucking bubonic plague. Every day I have to deal with people saying women who aren't thin enough, pretty enough, or feminine enough are worthless as human beings. Every day I have to deal with people saying I am going to hell, or that I want "special rights" when I have merely asked for the same rights as other people. Every day I have to see parents or expectant parents carry on as though having a child like me - or like my mother - would be the worst thing that could ever possibly happen to them. Every day I have to see shit on Facebook about how if you can afford cigarettes, you don't need food stamps, which implies that because my mother became addicted to cigarettes before I was ever thought of, I should have starved to death as a child. I get THAT one from my friends. My friends.

Do I think my friends are actively thinking "Golly, I sure wish Bonnie was dead" when they click on stuff like that? Of course not. But what they ARE thinking is that people on food stamps do not deserve the full freedom of choice in life that people who aren't on food stamps deserve, as if freedom to choose how to spend one's money only comes with a certain income level. And you cannot believe someone should have less freedom than you without, at least subconsciously, believing that they are somehow less of a person than you. You can't.

And that is what lack of privilege feels like. Knowing that people - even people who are supposed to love you - think you are less of a person than they are.

Knowing there are people who view you not as a human being, but as some kind of political rallying tool, an example of the "problems" in your country or the world.

Knowing there are people who think, at least in some theoretical sense, that the world would be better if you were never in it. Or if you died right now.

And knowing that you cannot defend yourself, because you will either be told to "lighten up", or have someone's political beliefs thrown in your face, as though they were more important than whether or not you feel that you deserve to be alive.

Ever feel like that? Like nobody wants you? Like the world would be better off if you just crawled into a hole somewhere?

Was it fun?

That's why talking about privilege is important. Because ultimately, this isn't about me. It's about the fact that whatever ways I may be different, there are lots and lots of other people who are different in the same ways. They don't deserve to feel like that. Neither do I.

And don't read this and come tell me how much you love me. I'm not writing all this because I'm sad. I'm writing it because I'm fucking pissed, and I'm tired of being made to feel like shit and then pretending everything is fine for politeness' sake. Everything is not fine. Making me feel like dirt is not fine. Making other people feel like dirt is not fine. I only have so many spoons. I only have so much time to spend with people, and I'd rather spend it with people who affirm and validate me, people who don't view me and people like me as symbols of Everything Wrong In The World.

1 comment:

deb ... p.s. bohemian said...

i hear ya and, at times, i'm pissed too!

i'm pissed at how often i do not like my body because of the messages constantly bombarding me about how old, fat, plain, etc. it is.

i'm pissed at the messages telling my son, my dear sweet old soul incredibly sensitive son that he should just suck it up and be a boy/man - fuck them! he is brilliant and the world needs more deeply caring males!

i'm pissed that there are so many people who think they are invited and welcomed to tell me how i should be living my life and how i'm getting it wrong!

i'm pissed. just plain pissed

i'm pissed that people sometimes give me the stink eye when i park in the handicap spaces (which i have every right to park in!) and get out of the car not using a walker, or being all elderly, or at least visibly *broken - they don't know my life and they can stuff it!

i'm pissed there is so much to be pissed at cause i don't want to be pissed - i want peace, love, and harmony - serenity now!