Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Marginalized people can have privilege


Privilege is hard to talk about. Most of us have it in some form or another, but we will not own it. It is the American way--to want to think your successes are of your own making and your own making alone. We don't like to ponder the advantages we have had. This is true of the those with the "right" skin color, gender, class and sexuality to earn societal favor. But it is equally true of the marginalized. Sometimes I think it is particularly hard for us to own our privilege, because what we are usually results in disadvantage. 
When discussion turns to concepts like "white female privilege," which was recently discussed by AJ Plaid at Racialicious and in follow up posts on Feministe and Womanist Musings, white women will balk. As will black men when the subject of "black male privilege" is raised. How can a quality that marginalizes--like being a (white) woman in a sexist, (white) male-dominated society--also be a privilege? It can. Being a black woman is certainly not a privilege in our society. But, for instance, when dealing with law enforcement, I am privileged in comparison to my brother or husband or son. (Even as I lose that privilege in comparison to white men and women.)

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