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Kelly J. Cooper

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Random Thoughts On Privilege [Oct. 21st, 2009|03:53 am]
Kelly J. Cooper

I always spell "privilege" wrong, dammit.

I am a 39-year-old Caucasian heterosexual female in a long-term, committed, monogamous relationship with a Caucasian male. We were each raised Catholic, although I would say I am lapsed to the point of welcoming excommunication, except that it would upset my Grandmother and my favorite aunt.

When people say bigoted things, or make bigoted jokes, I refute them (if I'm fairly sure it won't get me killed; although that doesn't always stop me). I have not always refuted them (there were a couple of incidents in college of which I am still ashamed) but I do now.

I do not consider myself prejudiced. I believe in accepting all people and all practices. I draw limits around hurting others non-consensually, especially hurting children. But these are practices I cannot accept to be around without taking action to prevent them or end them. I cannot reject out of hand people who have performed these actions in the past and repent them (religiously or irreligiously) now.

Supposedly, I have Caucasian heterosexual privilege, although (to be honest) I suspect it's offset by being a woman.

This may well be a bone-headed and rude thing to ask, but...

If you are a person of color, a lesbian, a gay man, a bisexual person, a transsexual or transgendered person, a practitioner of non-monogamy, a practitioner of BDSM, or some other "alternative" type of person (a stupid term, by which I clumsily mean someone who isn't a Caucasian, heterosexual, monogamous, Christian, and vanilla), is there something - anything - that I can do to help?

I can't afford to contribute financially to organizations that help ease the burdens or promote the rights of those who are not considered mainstream. Maybe my own "White Man's Burden/Straight Girl Burden" has just gotten too heavy lately, now that I can't offset my guilt with money, but I feel like I'm flapping my arms uselessly at the world, saying "Stop that! Leave those people alone! And let those folks get married, you selfish jerks!"

Is this imagined Caucasian heterosexual privilege worth anything?

From: (Anonymous)
2009-10-21 09:23 am (UTC)


Just as an FYI - There is a bishop in Africa who supposedly ordained a woman (in the Catholic church) and either she got ordained as a bishop or other women were ordained as priests because there are several of them. Somewhere in Florida this woman says mass. The bishop of Florida has said that anyone who attends her mass will be excommunicated. When I said "where do I sign up?" Lucy said "oh - you would fit right in with our group". She is learning cannon law to help that group that formed up in Boston, forgot the name, something...ahh Voice of the Faithful. She is debating going the the mass celebrated by the woman vs staying in the church to keep working in V of the F. So if you refer to Lucy - I think it might be a moot point. Don't think Grandma or Annie care either - they think Lucy is a hoot. I admire her energy and commitment - if we go to Fl - I intend to go to church!
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2009-10-21 09:47 am (UTC)

Re: catholic,excommunication

Hey, Ma, I meant Marie. She being my Godmother and all...
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[User Picture]From: catbird
2009-10-21 10:18 am (UTC)
To answer the question it sounds like you are doing fine. *scratches head* Now I'm not exactly up on my queer theory and all but I do fall into a couple of those categories you mentioned. Calling folks out on bigotry and not perpetuating it yourself is really all anyone can ask of you.

Me on the other hand could probably help the 'cause' by not being so damn closeted at work. Eh I never know what social balance to draw. We must not make the norms uncomfortable.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2009-10-21 11:07 pm (UTC)
To answer the question it sounds like you are doing fine.

Thank you for thinkin' about it.

We must not make the norms uncomfortable.

Sort of... we must be as comfortable as possible and still remain within the bounds of "acceptable" - although my goal has often been to push acceptable to the basics, like wearing clothes and chewing with your mouth closed, rather than the important stuff like whose picture's on your desk.
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[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2009-10-21 10:57 am (UTC)
Well, I guess I fall into a couple of those categories.

I'm not sure I have anything helpful to say here, though.

Certainly, I don't find the question rude.

I guess the thing I value most in my friends along this dimension is the belief, justified or not, that they consider the way I live my life -- in terms of relationships, in terms of religion, in terms of whatever -- to be categorically not especially noteworthy, while at the same time considering the details of it to matter.

What most annoys me is the reverse: ignoring the details and caring a lot about the categories.

Mostly, I expect people to not care very much about either, which is as it should be. I don't care about the details of the lives of most of the people I know, either, and really how could it be otherwise?

I also often appreciate it when people go out of their way to acknowledge that there are other ways to be than their own. Not all the time, because that can really get distracting, but from time to time, it's nice... especially within the context of conversations that are embedded deep in a series of assumptions. (E.g., when a conversation about how men are always trying to hook up with women pauses briefly to acknowledge the reality that, well, no, many men have no interest whatsoever in hooking up with women.)
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2009-10-21 11:11 pm (UTC)
[...] categorically not especially noteworthy, while at the same time considering the details of it to matter.

Yes, this. I don't care if your partner is a man or a woman so long as s/he is good to you.

I spend a lot of time trying to NOT assume stuff. It gets pretty challenging, but I try to keep it mostly in my head because I imagine it's pretty damn boring outside of my head.

I guess I posted because there's no real "coming out as an ally" day or any sort of framework set up to say "I'm here! And I don't judge!"
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[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2009-10-21 11:15 pm (UTC)
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From: tb
2009-10-21 12:10 pm (UTC)
I've been thinking about privilege too, so I'll natter some. (FYI, I'm being more pedantic than anything else, not intending criticism or attack; I know I have problems expressing tone in text.)

Is this imagined Caucasian heterosexual privilege worth anything?

It's only imagined in the sense that it's a shared cultural construct, so in my view, it's real. One of the things about privilege is that it largely manifests in what doesn't happen to someone. For example, neither you nor I are going to get pulled over for Driving While Black, and we can marry our partners if we want.

Privilege isn't independently worth anything; it manifests in context and is assigned by Other People, independent of the target's personal desires. It's an unearned advantage, not a form of capital you can transfer. However, where you have it, you're on the up-side of a power differential (even if you personally don't feel powerful), so there should be ways you can use your (relatively; it's always relative) privileged position to help, or at least not hinder. Step zero is being aware of privilege. Calling people out on bigotry (and you're certainly allowed to take your own safety in consideration) is a fine step one. Don't underestimate the importance of making the implicit explicit. The phrase you probably want to research is "being an ally." The first few paragraphs of this article express it pretty well, and there's more out there.

A thought: how welcoming is MYP to people of color?

Supposedly, I have Caucasian heterosexual privilege, although (to be honest) I suspect it's offset by being a woman.

Not so much offset as "intersected by." There are many different axes of privilege: gender, race, sexuality, age, ability, and so on. A man of color still has male privilege even as he's on the down-side of a racial power differential (in this culture). If he's gay (or transgendered or disabled or ...), other forms of privilege come into play. Oppression is not a zero-sum game; there's plenty of different kinds out there for everyone. Google "intersectionality theory" for more info; the Wikipedia article isn't a bad start.

So yeah, I've been thinking about this stuff too.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2009-10-21 11:26 pm (UTC)
Nattering is good. Links are good. I enjoy the output of when you have a thinky thing. Thank you very much!

A thought: how welcoming is MYP to people of color?

Tony Davis, my boss, the owner & operator of the MYP, is African American. His wife is Caucasian. His son is beautiful. So we're pretty good there. We have a pretty significant portion of our community and set of subscribers who are people of color. And we make an effort to carry books from all around the world and a wide variety of cultures.

The GLBT section needs work, though. I need me a GLBT comics expert to whip it into shape. (No BDSM pun intended.)
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