privilege

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arvan's picture

Privilege within communities working to lessen privilege

Audre Lorde once spoke at a feminist conference, noting that she was the only black lesbian there and one of only two women of color.  She was pointing at privilege and exclusion within a group formed to remedy and address privilege and exclusion.  In this address, she pointed to the language and organizational structure adopted by feminists to address patriarchy was formed by patriarchy to reinforce patriarchy.  That language and organization are the "master's tools" she speaks of and her assessment is that by using them, privilege will not be eliminated, but instead renewed and sustained.  

That metaphor has resonated with me since the very first time I heard it.  I started blogging for a number of reasons, including identifying, owning and interrupting privilege.  I have come to some conclusions which I will share in this post, namely:

- Privilege is always happening, in everyone's life and in every group.

- I can only interrupt, acknowledge and impact my own privilege.  This seems to be true for us all.  It is also true for groups.

- Denial sustains and reinforces privilege and honesty creates an opportunity to interrupt privilege.

The very instant any group or community is formed or declared, exclusion and privilege are established and instituted.  

Exclusion: some people are in that group and some are not.  

Privilege: the group has leader(s) / former(s) / administrator(s) / public & private voice(s) in some form or another who agree to their ability to declare the identity of that group.  There is also privilege in the selection of new members to the group or the expulsion of current members.

This can be problematic for any group whose stated goal is to address or lessen privilege.  This is often a group whose members and lives are often largely defined by their experiences of having been excluded by privileged persons and groups.  How such an organization or group addresses its privilege and exclusion will impact how successful they are in their efforts to impact privilege elsewhere and as a group or individuals.

arvan's picture

so, here's a fucking question

Why is an HIV vaccine being tested in Canada with a 2009 HIV population of approx.64,000 instead of sub-saharan Africa with 22.5 million people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS?

We seem to have no problem testing fertilizers, pesticides and weapons systems in Africa, but saving millions of African lives before some thousands of English & French speaking lives - no can do, apparently.

Isn't that more than a little bit fucked up?

arvan's picture

Fault Lines - Outsourced: Clinical trials overseas

US Pharmaceutical companies have moved their operations overseas over the course of the past decade. Instead of testing trial medicines on Americans, more and more of these tests are being carried out on poor people in faraway places. Russia, China, Brazil, Poland, Uganda, and Romania are all hot spots for what is called clinical research or clinical trials. Now employing CROs—or Clinical Research Organizations—the industry is big business, worth as much as $30 billion US dollars today.

One country has experienced a boom like no other in this industry--India. Spoken English, an established medical infrastructure, welcome attitudes toward foreign industry and most importantly legions of poor, illiterate test subjects that are willing to try out new drugs have transformed the Indian landscape into a massive testing ground for pharmaceuticals. Fault Lines' Zeina Awad travels to India to see what the clinical research practices look like on the ground. What role are the US regulatory bodies playing in overseeing the trials? Are participants aware that they are taking part in a clinical trial? Is the testing being held up against international ethical standards?

http://english.aljazeera.net/programmes/faultlines/

Jaded's picture

Writing Over Bodies

My book obsession is quite well known, in most circles I move and am allowed in; there is a long-standing joke that I don’t need food but just a fresh page to live. So when my student asked me rhetorically whether I ‘ever tire of theory’, he was rather surprised to know I did — can’t entirely blame him for holding this view, after all I did spend the last seven months talking solely in theories and of texts — in fact, I agree with Spivak¹ when she accuses prose of ‘cheating’. We are taught theory in a manner that we will be able to ‘frame our realities intelligibly’ – pretty problematic on its own already — but when it comes to translating words to practice, somewhere we break and falter. I teach English to children of lower caste and socio-economic backgrounds — technically speaking — this is the space I should be unleashing my postcolonialism in, making sure the harmful ideas that say, “Only a person speaking Good English will ever get a job anywhere”, but I can’t. The truth is, they do need a functional level of English to be employed anywhere  and if I start saying, “Forget the Empire’s tongue! Let’s subvert it and smash the system”, I will confuse them and even humiliate them — for subversion happens once you’ve mastered the tongue — and as first-generation learners of English, learning this tongue is hard enough as it is. On most days, the best I can do is not scold them — as the institution ‘requires’ me to — and not shame them when they code switch² to their native tongues.

(Un)Ironically, what I do end up doing is teaching postcolonialism, Said, Spivak and others to my IB students who are at times even more caste and class privileged than I am. We talk of the Subaltern, while when talking to the Subaltern — my code-switching students in this case — we still re-enforce the most heinous ideas concerning them, their languages and perhaps most importantly, routinely erase their Englishes. When this broken pattern of relating to people above and below us in the hierarchy of being is brought to light, the best we do is, “acknowledge privilege” and then hit a dead-end. The only difference is that now we have Shiny Good Activist Medal™. This isn’t to imply that my students — or even the Subaltern itself — don’t know about the neato colonisation thing, or the reason why certain texts are canonised and others weren’t, we’ve talked of those things — but that’s what it really is: rhetoric, words and talk. These words swirl out of my tongue, out in class, they nod and ask questions and we study on. When they see exam questions using standard forms of English — one they haven’t mastered particularly well — and their ‘intelligence’ is rated on how they fare in these exams, that are designed in an Othering tongue, so to speak. Then we hear stereotypes like,” Those damn Dalit buggers! We educate them, but what use? They still fail exams and waste our time and money. They are basically a waste of space and seats, I tell you!”, when we’re making sure they remain in the same position — one step under us.

Clarisse Thorn's picture

“I Know You’re Smarter Than Me” 2: Backlash, Feminist Ideology, and Flexibility

This was originally posted over at Feministe! and Clarisse Thorn: Pro-Sex Outreach, Open-Minded Feminism.

It’s dangerous to start posts with anecdotes, but I’m gonna try it again. This one is from when I was a little baby proto-feminist, and I got my period. My mama, who was born in the USA in 1945, regaled me with stories about old myths around menstruation: she talked about how when she went to college, for example, her home economics teacher very seriously reassured the students that “Now, it’s just not true that if you bake a cake while menstruating, the cake will fall,” and “Now, it’s just not true that if you milk a cow while menstruating, the milk will sour.” Imagine, if you will, living in a world where that kind of myth-busting had to be offered at the university level.

Mom then told me all about how PMS used to be viewed by doctors when she was young; how many male doctors used to simply refuse to accept the existence of PMS; how patronizing doctors would be when she was growing up, about her body and her experience. Mom suggested that I someday take a look at the gynecological sections of 1950s-1960s medical textbooks, just so I could see how medieval they were. She talked about how it used to be accepted among doctors — who were almost all male, natch — that a woman who felt cramps while menstruating was making it up. That a woman who felt unusually emotional or even in physical pain while menstruating was just being all hysterical, moody and useless — you know the way women are! She explained that as more women became doctors and feminism gained traction and science advanced with a broader perspective, PMS became recognized as a real thing. Cramps were no longer “typical female hysteria”.

I thought about this recently when I saw the 2009 film “Jennifer’s Body”, which was written by avowed feminist Diablo Cody (who wrote “Juno” too), and which I ended up liking a lot more than I usually like horror flicks. Here’s the menstruation-relevant exchange:

Needy [the main character]: Are you PMSing or something?

Jennifer: PMS isn’t real Needy, it was invented by the boy-run media to make us seem like we’re crazy.

Interesting, right? Especially in context of my mother’s analysis. But I can totally see where it’s coming from. PMS may not have been invented by the media (and maybe other women of my mother’s generation would like to comment if they’ve got a take on this subject) — but regardless, PMS has sure as hell been co-opted by the media, and by sexism at large. I have definitely seen plenty of dumb assholes in my generation dismiss feminist arguments, or really any emotional thing ever said by a woman, by snickering: “Oh, she’s just PMSing.” And I would be astonished if the Feministe commentariat hadn’t experienced an overwhelming amount of those same shutdowns. That is the kind of treatment that Diablo Cody is trying to push back against with those “boy-run media” lines — and justifiably so!

Clarisse Thorn's picture

“I Know You’re Smarter Than Me”: Clarisse Thorn’s Feminist Ideology

This was originally posted at Feministe  and Clarisse Thorn: Pro-Sex Outreach, Open-Minded Feminism.

I haven’t been on a lot of capital-D Dates. My relationships tend to develop through friendships and mutual interests, mostly because I am a huge nerd. My first on-purpose Date took place when I was seventeen; it was with a local boy who I barely knew — most of our contact was through brief chats on AOL Instant Messenger. (Am I showing my age?) He’d heard a lot about me, I guess, and for some reason he was impressed by my reputation for being smart and weird. He took me to a pool hall and gave me adorable lessons on how to hold the cue, how to break, etc. I don’t remember much of what we talked about … except for one exchange that is burned into my brain forevermore.

Prostitution had entered the conversation, and he said something about how it’s immoral.

“Immoral?” I asked. “What makes you say that?” I had not yet researched sex work or evolved the complex opinions that I have about it today, but I still knew there was something extremely weird about dismissing prostitution as “immoral”. I’d felt fairly bored by the conversation thus far, and was genuinely curious about how this would go; I remember smiling and thinking, hey, this could be interesting.

He was across the table from me, leaning over his pool cue, lining up a shot. He glanced up — looking surprised, like it was totally weird that I was challenging such a fundamental thing as prostitution being immoral (gasp!) — and he gave me a heart-melting smile. “Oh,” he said casually, “I know you’re smarter than me, so let’s not get into it.”

I blinked. I shut up. I think I might even have smiled, out of confusion if nothing else. We chatted about whatever he brought up next. He took me home and dropped me off without a kiss; there was no chemistry (at least not on my end, I certainly can’t speak for him). No second date. But “I know you’re smarter than me, so let’s not get into it” … that line, and the friendly way he said it, stuck in my head. It was an amazingly complimentary, amazingly condescending, amazingly effective way of shutting me down.

Clarisse Thorn's picture

Social responsibility, activism, and giving thanks

Tonight I had Thanksgiving dinner with my mother and her boyfriend. Some friends of my mother attended, one of whom is a lesbian who I’ll call Kay. Kay attended dinner with her mother, who is unaware of Kay’s sexual orientation. One of the reasons Kay’s mom doesn’t know about Kay’s sexual orientation is that Kay’s mom has already behaved quite badly towards Kay’s elder sister, who is an out-of-the-closet lesbian.

I knew this whole situation going in, and one thing that struck me was how much of a nice person Kay’s mom is. I mean … she’s really nice. I mean, she clearly tries to be a good person. She also tried really hard to help me do the dishes. (I didn’t let her because I wanted them all to myself.)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to engage with people who have done bad things, or who are currently doing things I think are bad (like shaming their lesbian daughters). It wouldn’t have been right to throw my sex-positive ideas on the table while talking to Kay’s mom — mostly because Kay specifically asked me not to, ahead of time. But. The most powerful tool for getting people to reconsider their stigma against alternative sexuality is personal engagement. Don’t I have some responsibility here? Is there something I can do?

Other examples of this are rife. One very intense, very important issue I grappled with this week was having a friend email me to inform me that another friend — someone I like and admire a lot — has been credibly accused of sexual assault by a person who will never press charges. This has come up before in my life … every time it’s a little different, and yet so many things are the same: a person is assaulted, the news gets out among friends, the survivor doesn’t press charges, there is confusion among the friends about how to act, eventually things die down, and I feel as though I should have done more.

When I was in high school, one of my closest male friends raped a female acquaintance of mine. She didn’t press charges and they later had a romance that was, to all appearances, consensual. I pieced events together slowly — he did acknowledge what he’d done, though never directly to me. I didn’t know what to do, at the time, and I still feel as though I should have done so much more. He and I were so close. I never had the nerve to directly talk to him about what happened, because — even though we never talked directly about it — I saw evidence that he felt terrible about it, and I was sure that I could devastate him by talking about it more. But still … I should have talked to him.

arvan's picture

Confessions of a Gender Traitor

I confess. 

I am a gang member. 

I have benefitted from my membership in this gang, all my life.  Everything in my life has come to me easier than it has for most of the planet, because I belong to this gang.  My clothes, food, shelter, luxuries and freedom are the spoils of my membership.  We live a life of ease, gluttony, vanity and waste built on the backs of oppression, deceit and cruelty.

We are a gang that brutally oppresses half of the world's population with rape, murder, starvation, torture, disease, forced and unpaid labor, humiliation, lack of education and food and shelter.  The mother of almost every child on the planet is the target of our oppression - controlled by words, weapons & fear and deprived of a voice or respect as human - as equal.

This gang also fights among its own ranks.  The gang at the top of this pyramid of brutality, ignorance and brutality is run by several thousand gang members who use raping, pillaging, murder and destroying the entire planet to luxuriate in and hoard the wealth of the planet.  For every bite of food we eat, thousands of people die of starvation.

The annals of history are written by this gang, obliterating the thoughts, words and lives of all foes, vanquished or living.  For four thousand years we have forged the planet around us into instruments of war, torture, enslavement and despair.  We have roamed the surface of the planet in packs, armies and alone in dark alleys with an unquenchable thirst for the blood of our fellow humans.  Those whom we do not kill outright, we eliminate in history, we remove their names from their own stories and place the names we choose to honor in their places.

arvan's picture

The Long, Dark Night of My Sex-Positive Soul

So first, a little background on sex-positive.  

There is no organized sex-positive movement.  It is a discussion that has grown over the recent years, starting in the 1930's.  It can mean a great many things to just about everybody and that is kind of the point, really.  The basic idea is that sex is a natural part of human, mammalian existence and that we can embrace it in its variety as a part of normal life. 

People in many groups organized around specific aspects of sex and identity often participate in sex-positive conversations and find the ideals and values of their individual and group identities overlapping sex-positive thoughts and goals.  Some of the more frequent of such groups and individuals identify in terms of Sex work, BDSM & Kink, LGBTQI "Pink" , disability, feminism, genderqueer, transhuman and many, many more.

If you want to read some good primers on sex-positivity, try this post by Clarisse Thorn, The Center for Sex-Positive Culture or any of the links on our blogroll listed under 'sex-positive'.

Note: I spend a good portion of this post, talking about my own experience.  This is not because I'm particularly enamored with myself, but rather to offer my recent thoughts as one person's reactions to something that may echo in your life someplace.  It may not.  I won't pretend to know how anyone else should feel or react and I won't dictate to others the terms of their identity.

I have been having a crisis of faith lately.  This is of course funny because I am not religious and the faith in crisis is more about my own identity than how I feel about invisible beings.  In the larger sense it is about what it means to be 'sex-positive' but it really is about how to deal with privilege.

In the span of a week or so, I attended several Sex-Positive events.  One was the showing of a documentary film with discussion afterward, the second was a discussion on sex-positive at a BDSM social club and the last was an invitation to join a group of sex-positive activists.  I suddenly realized how very privileged the conversations and these groups were.  At one event, there were some people of color but at the others, it was all white, professional, educated, middle to upper class and english speaking US citizens.  I like everyone in these groups and this post is not about them but about my experiences and thoughts about privilege.

Clarisse Thorn's picture

The S&M feminist

Originally posted at Clarisse Thorn: Pro-Sex Outreach, Open-Minded Feminism

Readers of my blog have told me that my actual feminist opinions are sort of unclear. So have people who know me in real life. I don’t blog about straight-up feminist issues here, at least not very often.

One reason for that is that I’m more interested in appealing to a general audience than to a specifically theory-oriented audience. To some extent I can’t help the fact that I have a very analytical mindset; that I often, instinctively, use big words; stuff like that. But still, in an ideal world, I’d like every post I write to be quite accessible to any smart newcomer. So I spend a lot of energy thinking about how to make my posts less jargon-y, and more interesting to random people. Sometimes I fail, but I like to think that most of the time I succeed.

Another reason is that other bloggers have already written about feminism, including the fraught topic of S&M and feminism. And they’ve done it so intelligently that I honestly don’t feel that I have much to add to the conversation. My introduction to the S&M blogosphere actually came about because I was Googling something-or-other and I came upon the blog SM-Feminist, at which point I was so filled with awe and delight and recognition that I sat and read the archives for hours upon hours upon hours. I’ve never been so enthralled by any other blog. (Just a note: the writers at SM-Feminist don’t, I think, share my concerns about being generally accessible. It’s possible that it won’t be easy for non-feminists to read, but I actually can’t tell.)

The major problem with SM-Feminist now, I think, is just that the easy posts went first, in 2007. So the more recent posts (the ones on top, and on the front page) tend to be a bit complex, and probably less exciting for newcomers to these debates. Of course, the other major problem is that almost all the writers have pretty much stopped writing, even the incredibly prolific Trinity — who gets a place in my personal Pantheon of Awesomeness — and who now focuses her efforts in other areas.

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