I think I’m sick of the concept of privilege

I’m sick of the word privilege. It’s turned from something that was supposed to help us to quickly illuminate the differences between a non-privileged group and a privileged group.

If you’re from a non-privileged group you know the differences. You know the subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which you’re treated differently because of some aspect of your being. The privileged person often does not know of them, does not see them, does not realize that they live under different rules in a different playing field than a non-privileged person.

The concept of privilege was invented for the privileged. It is they who need to be shown the differences, and instead of every non-privileged person having to individually explain how their treatment in life differs, there are lists and posts drawn up for the sole purpose of illustrating things that privileged people take for granted as available to everyone.

That’s not how I see it being used now. Instead, it’s simply become a divisive wedge between marginalized groups. Something to use to shut up other people or groups that are saying something you disagree with or dislike. The concept of privilege has become a distraction from our goals.

What are our goals? What are my goals? My goals are a society where people of any (a)/sexual orientation can be treated as equal and normal. A society where people are not shamed for their sexuality, and that includes people that are kinky or poly. What is the point in seeking to build a society where it’s okay to be homosexual but if you like, say, being tied up, well that’s immoral and disgusting? We don’t seek our goals in spite of other groups. We have to seek our goals with other groups because to do otherwise is to build a world that is exactly the same except that we get to be the privileged ones.

Passing privilege. Vanilla Privilege. Sexual or Asexual Privilege.

Let’s talk about Passing Privilege, for instance. This is one of the nastiest ones I’ve seen, where people use this concept to erase people’s ethnicity and sexuality. “You can be mistaken for white, or straight, or sexual? Well you have that privileged group’s privilege, because people treat you as such!”

Which is missing the point. Why do people pass in the first place? If a woman uses skin lighteners and can pass as white, does this change the fact that she grew up in a world where there was gain in hiding her natural coloring? Does this change the disregard she sees for people of her race? Do years of being treated as inferior by society suddenly disappear?

Just because people don’t realize you’re black, or gay, does not make you immune from feeling their scorn, or feeling shame for who you are. Instead of examining the differences in the treatment people received based on how they’re perceived by other members of society, let’s tell “passing” POC that they aren’t allowed to discuss racism that they’ve experienced. Heck, they don’t deserve to call themselves POC, do they? They’re appropriating that racial designation! They should label themselves as white, since some people think they are.

Now, the idea that bi, pan, and asexual people have passing privilege is interesting to me. The argument I have seen for bi people’s passing privilege is that when they are dating a member of the opposite sex they are read as straight.

I get read as straight too-but I’m not dating a member of the opposite sex. I’m just affectionate with my brother when I’m out in public, and I was pretty surprised when one of my relatives, trying to get in contact with me, had learned that I lived with my boyfriend. I don’t. I don’t have a boyfriend. I live with my brother. My neighbors think I’m a straight lady. Ha!

I also get read as gay. Because, you guessed it, I’m a huggy-cuddly person with my sister too, and we live together, and people mistake us for a couple.
Basically, I don’t really understand how asexuals and bisexuals and pansexuals supposedly have such an easier time passing for straight. It seems like anyone can pass for straight if they want to. In regards to asexuals-we’re more often mistaken for gay because of our lack of interest in the opposite sex. Heck, a lot of asexuals even get mistaken as gay by LGBTQ people who think we’re just ashamed or repressed or whatnot.

Back to privilege-bashing now. Did you know being a disprivileged group was a rare, in-demand commodity? Yep. See, if you acknowledge that there’s one more disprivileged group out there, it diminishes the importance of your own disprivileged group! Your problems are trivialized and your goals less important because there is another group out there that has problems and goals. /sarcasm

So for instance, if we believe that there is sexual privilege, and that asexuals are disprivileged, then LGBTQ people’s problems are less important. Give up, we’ll never win the struggle for equal marriage rights now that Asexuals’ goals are existent. [sarcasm warning yet again for those with broken sarcasm-meters]

As much as I’d like to live in an ideal world where I could bring up the idea of sexual privilege and have sexuals thoughtfully and considerately ponder the possibility, I don’t live in that world. I live in a world where asexuals who ask the question get harassed and demeaned, treated as homophobes and get to enjoy having their (a)sexuality attacked and erased. I live in a world where the concept of privilege has divided me from groups who’s goals are largely the same as mine. I live in a world where I am not free to ask the question of potential privilege, because to do so is to incite attack. I live in a world where the concept of privilege has become just a weapon and a silencing technique.

I don’t care who’s privileged anymore. I have goals to accomplish, and that’s what my time is for.

About Lasciel

Out, out, brief candle!
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16 Responses to I think I’m sick of the concept of privilege

  1. Sciatrix says:

    I am more or less at the same place at this point. I’m so fucking sick of the topic of privilege and attempting to grade every single minutia of identity along a scale of privilege on some axis somewhere that I am tempted to more or less excise the concept from my writing. Can we talk about things other than semantic nitpicking in social justice contexts please? The recent wank has struck me as more or less an attempt to form a hierarchy of oppression on a queer axis, and… how many times have people got to say that hierarchies of oppression serve absolutely no useful purpose?

    And yes yes yes on the concept of passing privilege being anything but a good thing.

    • Lasciel says:

      “and… how many times have people got to say that hierarchies of oppression serve absolutely no useful purpose?”

      Forget saying it; we might as well just make a recording and let it play over and over. Some people will just never get it. And to me, wasting time on such arguments about who has it worse is a luxury I don’t feel we (or most oppressed groups) really have. I doubt the so-called traditional marriage advocates are off quibbling with pro-lifers over who has it roughest in the fight against rights.

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  3. itssciencefriction says:

    When I saw this I didn’t expect to agree with it quite so much… but afterwards, I do. And I get people fighting with me over neurotypical privilege, and just… gah. It’s so frustrating. And in SJ circles, there’s the overfocusing on privilege to the point of not getting much done (I dunno if what I’m saying is the same as what I mean though – what I mean is basically what Sciatrix said).

    And re: passing privilege. Absolutely, totally agree. There’s been similar conversations going around Tumblr… which are then shut down by the more conservative (heh) factions of SJ (I could name names but I’m not that petty). And I remember my friend posted something on tumblr that might be of relevance.

    • Lasciel says:

      It’s incredibly frustrating, and wearying, and I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve actually burned out and had to disengage from all social justice circles for awhile. People don’t want to listen to you, even consider for a second what you’re saying, and instead would rather just slap a label on you or accuse you of being bigoted somehow for your thoughts, and dog-pile you. People have to delete their tumblrs and blogs because they’re being harassed, and I have to wonder, why the hell are so many ‘social justice activists’ engages in harassment and bullying? (Not even counting erasure and shaming) so many activist places are just toxic.

      Thanks for the link, I especially like this line “Including the experiences of lighter skinned and mixed race POC doesn’t do a disservice to the rest of us. It helps undermine the rather racist idea that all people of color look/act/live one particular way”.

      Passing privilege… it’s just so contradictory and bizarre in the way many people use it that I just don’t even see the purpose anymore.

      • itssciencefriction says:

        Yeah I’ve burned out too, and had to disengage. And I totally see everything you’re saying.

        I’ve made two public posts on Dreamwidth/LiveJournal about my thoughts lately… One is Tumblr sucks for Social Justice and the other is specifically on the phobia-as-a-suffix-for-bigotry thing, titled ~woo “-phobia” stuff. Fair warning, the former is more coherent, and the latter is mostly meant to be something to send friends to when they don’t really “get it” – so it’s mostly links.

        But yeah. I’m just doing my own thing lately, trying to stay out of trouble. It seems that in the quest to treat people right we’re not treating people right. 😛

      • itssciencefriction says:

        Oh, I did write one more post just now that I think you’d like… I’m sure these sorts of problems aren’t specific to Tumblr, but that’s mostly where my experience of toxic activist circles lies, so that’s mostly what I talk about. It’s really late where I am though so it might not be as clear as I think it is.

        I am left wondering how else to describe systemic inequality in a way that’s more productive… but I suppose that’s the next discussion after this.

        I do know that some people “get” (as in understand) privilege on a basic level (and critiquing passing privilege), but they seem to be a minority. My friends all know that one can be neurodivergent but have able-bodied privilege (and even that within the category of mental disabilities there can be privilege), or queer but have sexual privilege, and it doesn’t stump them like it does for so many people (I was reading some horrid things from a creepy cliqueish loose-group of WordPress.com blogs about how cisgender women can’t have cisgender privilege earlier. Ah, TERFs. So ridiculous.)

        Anyway, I subscribed to your blog. 🙂

        (also forgot to press “Post Comment” for about four hours :P)

        • Lasciel says:

          I can see what you’re saying even though I don’t use tumblr much anymore. (I wish so many people hadn’t switched to it or have it as their only blog >w<) Things seem to get really out of hand on Tumblr more so than anywhere else. It might because tumblr is so good at spreading things around to people without giving contexts or any background on the posters.

          I look forward to reading anything you post about an alternative to the privilege-system way of viewing things… Me, I've been trying to wrap my head around and it's just too much right now. All I can come up with is "Things are different for different people." I just want everyone to have equal opportunities, be treated decently and not shamed or ostracized. I start to think that human nature is just implicitly manipulating, shaming, and excluding.

          Today one of the my favorite bloggers said that "People that use the word retard make me sick" and while I don't use that word, I did before I began learning about ableism and people talked to me about it, and I thought about how it would feel to have a cognitive disability or have a loved one with one, and have to hear people using it hatefully as an insult. And so I decided to stop using that word so I wouldn't risk hurting someone. But the idea of shaming people, insulting them, and harassing them to make them stop using certain words, without coming to any understanding of *why* it's a bad idea to use them, THAT sickens me. .We know what it's like to be ostracized, shamed, or picked on for what we are. And most of us can't even *try* to accomplish our goals without making someone else feel that way?

          (inb4 some SJ warriors says tone argument we don't all have to be nice blah blah) I was educated about ableism without anyone ever having to make me feel bad or ashamed. So clearly we don't have to resort to that sort of thing.

          Gosh I know I'm tl;dring off subject. I subscribed to your wordpress blog too ;3 (I don't read my DW much) I hope you keep blogging and talking about ableism, and the few (or a LOT) of hateful people don't stifle you.


          • itssciencefriction says:

            yeah I feel pretty similarly. like, even if I said something like that I would at least say “it’s comparing whatever you dislike to people with intellectual/developmental disabilities and that’s not okay; disabled people aren’t here to be used as pejoratives” because it’s legitimately not all that widespread a notion (and I’m writing here as a developmentally disabled person who’s had that slur used against me on many occasions, sometimes with accompanied fists, so I’m someone for whom anger would be valid). and hell, even then, I’d say the usage makes me sick, not the people (I guess this is sort of like how Jay Smooth made a video advocating for “what you said was racist” rather than “you are racist.” it becomes less personal and instead saying that someone did/said something wrong. I dunno, it’s late here so my brain is foggy. :/)

            the tone argument is of course a logical fallacy, but it seems that the hive-mind-ness on Tumblr takes everything to an extreme (same with “intent doesn’t matter”). and just shouting “NO THIS IS AWFUL” all the time (and as you said, things often get to the point of harassment) doesn’t really get the point clearly across. anger is valid, and expressing it is valid, but if people actually expect to get anything done they need to at least try to explain things.

            so it’s just like… nobody even tries. I’ve been guilty of this, I admit, though I’ve always tried to check myself (partially because it’s bad for my own mental health to act in the way most Tumblr People act). it’s sort of elitist in a way. sit back waiting for someone to fuck up and then bite their head off when they do, expecting everyone to be perfect. and some of the smallest fuck-ups get disproportionate reactions. which is unrealistic and not gonna get anyone anywhere – certainly not to a more egalitarian society. and I’m not saying people shouldn’t express anger or frustration or anything, just that when they do, they need to use it more constructively (and there are people who do this but SO MANY don’t). I mean nobody ends up learning anything really.

            also, re: your example of ableist language- I encountered a usage recently, and ranted about it on my LJ but I at least explained the problems (probably not a great explanation but I did try).

            anyway, since this is getting super-long and I’m not getting notifications of replies, if you want to email me I’m itssciencefriction (at) gmail.

            P.S. on tumblr there’s additionally this assuming people are privileged when they act oppressively, totally forgetting internalized and horizontal oppression and just. guh. I’m SO done with it.

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  5. jayaism says:

    Man, have you given me something to think about.

    • Lasciel says:

      I’m glad! 🙂 As much as I’ve ragged on the privilege-concept here, I am grateful for it. It solidified and clarified a lot of murky ideas I’d held. I guess I never expected people to use it as such an inflexible and unexaminable system. It’s not without it’s flaws and it’s not the answer to every question/problem we deal with.

  6. Plures says:

    Thank you for this post. It seems that discussions on equal rights and fairness devolve into finger-pointing about “privilege,” which I think detracts from the aim of achieving social parity for groups who do not conform to a particular social norm that is deemed “acceptable.” It feels quite rigid, and it admittedly makes me twitch a bit when I see activists harping on “privilege” to the exclusion of other topics. This is not to say that social disparities do not exist, but discussion of those disparities has devolved into semantic arguments that do little more than splitting hairs.


  7. Jonny O says:

    I know this is a couple years old but I felt compelled to comment.

    The whole ‘privilege’ thing seems to have boiled down to the equivalent of “top-ten lists” (ex: top 10 things white males can do that YOU can’t). The first logical fallacy involved is vastly over-generalizing the target group.

    The second fallacy is omission: it’s basically listing all the things the ‘other’ group can (supposedly) do that ‘we’ cannot. It’s counterproductive and whiny, but most importantly it’s evidence the goal isn’t equality, just power. If it was about equality, the process would involve making lists for both groups and comparing them.

    The funny thing is, social rights movements didn’t invent this lopsided style of arguing. As an example, some rich people have been complaining for ages how “hard” they have it because they don’t have the ‘privilege’ of welfare or lower taxes.

    The only way anyone has ever advanced at anything is stop worrying about the other guy’s list and make their own list better.

    • My thoughts exactly. Thank you for commenting despite the post being a bit old. It’s still relevent I think 🙂

      In general I think it’s too easy to get into the trap of trying to solve the world (or at least, our society’s) problems, when one really needs to be marshalling their time and energy on their own life. At least, that has been my personal experience; that when I stop worrying about other people I get a lot more accomplished.

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