The announcement of the grand jury’s decision not to indict the Ferguson police officer who killed Mike Brown, coming on the heels of reading about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the frightening reality of how many of the U.S. soldiers come to be there (joining the National Guard for the chance to go to college, then being deployed to fill the ranks of a ‘volunteer’ army) was too much for me yesterday.
Thus the title of my post: Too much wrong.
In reaction to these shameful manifestations of injustice, I began thinking about and investigating the research on privilege. There are apparently eight or nine agreed upon forms of privilege. I added one. I found the illuminating statements below on the website of Media Smarts, a Canadian organization. They helped me to frame my thoughts.
“… privilege is not merely about race or gender… it is a series of interrelated hierarchies and power dynamics that touch all facets of social life: race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, education, gender identity, age, physical ability, [and body size.]”
“… privilege, discrimination, and social groups all operate within interrelated hierarchies of power, dominance, and exclusion. Just because someone is privileged in one way doesn’t mean they may not be underprivileged in another (and vice-versa). It is therefore important to be aware of the various groups to which one belongs in order to be able to question our own participation in a system of discrimination and privilege.”
“… the privileged group is the one that is commonly treated as the baseline against which the others are judged or compared – it is seen as ‘ordinary’ [or the ‘norm’.]”
So here is one list of the forms of privilege and who has it, as they are generally present in western culture. The information is mostly taken from the Media Smarts website, with some modifications added by me.
- Gender (male authority, stories and perspectives)
- Gender Identity (how one identifies and express oneself in gendered terms)
- Racial (institutionalized racism: system structured to privilege one group over others)
- Sexuality (heterosexuality assumed)
- Religious (WASP: religious practices and observances recognized as the norm)
- Education (access to higher education)
- Class (economic status & social class)
- Ability (able bodied, w/o mental disability or addiction)
- Body size (“In terms of media, it is extremely rare to find representations of individuals whose [body] does not conform to cultural expectations. In the rare instances that such characters are portrayed, their nonconformity is typically used to elicit… laughter, or may be portrayed as a kind of mental [disability].”)
- Age (youth)
This gives me a lot to think about. I have a renewed awareness of the groups to which I belong. At the very least, I want to remain more conscious of the ways that my privilege makes things easier for me in my daily life. I do not expect that it will be comfortable, but it seems critical to focus on my “own participation in a system of discrimination and privilege…”
The work I am attempting to do here, addressing issues of fat stigma, sexism, corporate greed and so on, feels like a privileged indulgence, unless I also honor these realities. These seem like the right thoughts to carry with me into Thanksgiving Day 2014.
PS: How to be a White Ally by Janee Woods