I was reading a discussion of racism in fandom for class and came across this link. In short, it makes me uncomfortable. It should. One of the things I took away from it is that privileged people shouldn’t be comfortable with privilege. Does that eliminate my privilege and make me one with “oppressed people” (I use quotes to signify that it’s a pretty othering term and I’m trying to highlight that)? No. Does that mean I can now identify with people oppressed by racism or sexism? Not really. Have I gained something from the experience? Yes. Was that the point of the article? I doubt it, but I’m grateful that I read it anyway.

Challenging an institution and trying to change something isn’t easy and it isn’t comfortable. It’s full of contradictions, and as a privileged person (although I believe that all people have some degree of privilege so obviously this means that I have received more institutional advantages and thus privilege) it is frustrating that there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to confront racism or homophobiau or sexism. That’s as it should be. I’m not really sure where to go from here, but I’m going to try to figure it out anyway. My position in society makes it relatively easy to say “Well, that’s nice, how can I use my privilege to help people?” But that maintains the privileging institution that gave rise to the inequalities in the first place. I should also point out that these conclusions are not something I came up with on my own. I had a lot of help. Am I wise and enlightened now? A little more than I used to be, perhaps.

A closing note: these issues are not about me. That is, a discussion on racism isn’t really about giving white people a chance to stand up and announce their enlightenment and readiness to stand by oppressed peoples. I say that because I’ve tried to avoid doing so here, but it’s entirely possible that I’ve failed. But I do think it’s important for privileged people to talk about privilege and power dynamics even though there is no easy or politically correct way to do so while recognizing to the greatest extent possible the following:

  • We are privileged by a system/institution/whatever, and we must recognize that privilege;
  • Even writing or discussing privilege in this way is, in and of itself, an act of the privileged;
  • We are not here to enlighten or be enlightened by “oppressed people,” nor is it their responsibility to engage with us on our terms and explain to us what we can do to help them;
  • The referents of these pronouns change depending on the conversation being had at the moment, and it’s important not to let an “us vs. them” mentality remain entrenched since that’s where uneven power dynamics arise in the first place;
  • “Us vs. them” must change, but it’s also important not to just lump oneself in with those-formerly-known-as-“them” because it’s disingenuous to assume an equal playing field;
  • Therefore, new language* is needed that will reflect the ultimate changes to structure and the “solution” will not be simple or easy to arrive at.

This list is by no means complete, but it does represent a set of reminders that I’m going to use to guide my thinking on the topics of privilege and oppression. Maybe some good will come of them. This is not a topic I intend to write on frequently, and it is entirely possible I will never write on it again. But I like continuing dialogues, so if you want to please comment or drop me a line. Agree or disagree, it doesn’t matter, I’m happy to hear from you anyway.  If you want what I consider a more authoritative take on what it means to be privileged and recognize privilege and move on from that point, go here.

*I hate using new language for the sake of new language, since it leads to what psycholinguists call the “euphemism treadmill.” It does no good to change the language while leaving the institution intact. Whether or not changing language can actually help change the institution is an open question.