Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hello. My name is Criss, and I am privileged.

But then again, you knew that.

I write a blog. So, like, d'oh! To write a blog, I need:
  • to be literate (in English)
  • Internet access
  • free time
Then again, you needed these same things to read this blog. So I guess we're even on that one.

I received an email that called me out on a few things. Some were valid, some were not. (Please, people, remember what happens when you make ASSumptions.) I want to address the valid ones.

The lovely profile you see to the right, over there --> (um, under the BlogHer ads. So sue me, I'm trying to make a dime off y'all) was written a long, long time ago. Before I knew what privilege was, and how much of it I had. And I hadn't thought about the way I'd described myself, until this person pointed out some things in this email.

My first reaction was the rage, partly because of the incorrect assumptions and partly because of the cranky, due to [thing I'm going to tell you about tomorrow]. So I asked for help on this, and asked if the things person said were true according to other people. Like my good friends on Twitter.

Turns out some of the things were true. So I changed my profile.

I had a line in there that I thought was a clever reference to Charleton Heston's "Get your paws off me, you damned, dirty ape!" line. I kind of forgot that, um, Planet of the Apes (the original) was a long time ago. And maybe I'm not as clever as I think.

And my "joke" used the word "ape," which is a highly charged word even when you're making a clever reference to an old movie. Kind of like how even if you put a lower-case "i" in front of the word "pad" it still means something you use five days out of every 28 when your VAGINA is bleeding. (Who knew Apple and I had so much in common!)

Then there's the having a laptop and good grammar thing... my class and education privilege. The fact that I blog regularly (and practically live on Twitter) pretty much tells you about my class privilege, and makes it highly likely that I have a home computer/laptop anyway... right? The "better grammar" thing was supposed to be another clever joke, but meh. It's not really funny, is it?

So, yeah, I have lots of privilege. I am aware of some of it, and I try to stay aware of it.

Having privilege doesn't make me evil, though, nor does it mean my opinions are not valid. It means I have a limited view of things, and I need to watch it to make sure I don't stick my privileged foot in my privileged mouth.

It doesn't mean I don't have a right to speak about certain things, even if, egads, you disagree with me. The fact that I have not lived that particular situation my own very self does not mean I am wholly ignorant of it; I may not be an expert, I may not be able to speak from personal experience, but I may have taken the time to listen to someone who has lived through that experience. And if that person isn't there at that particular point in time, and that point of view needs to be shared, then I have a right -- and many would say a responsibility -- to speak up.

Having all this privilege means I get to speak in places where others do not. And in those situations, I try to speak up for those not welcome or included in those spaces. No, I'm not going to do it perfectly; I can almost guarantee you I'll screw up at some point. I'm going to say the wrong things sometimes, and I'm going to say incomplete things pretty much all the time (since these are not my first-hand experiences), but I'm going to do my best to call out oppression and discrimination when I see it, and to bring up the points of view and experiences that are usually silenced in those privileged spaces.

And so ends yet another rant.

I edited my profile. If you have comments or suggestions, feel free to leave them. I'll listen. (Even if I don't agree with your "tone.")


  1. If people were only allowed to speak out about their own experiences, this world would be a very sad and limited place.

  2. I take issue with this. I don't think something qualifies as privilege if it's possible to be gained through your own efforts. And a laptop (i.e. a middle-class income) and an education can be gained. It's not possible for all people to get there, of course, but it's not *impossible* for everyone.

    In the past privilege was something ineffable that could be lost but never gained. The Social Register crowd of, say, 1910 could not be joined by most of the commoners no matter how much money they had. The middle class has traditionally been less exclusive, but at least as recently as the 70s many would object to a black family moving into their neighborhood.

    (Of course there's still some prejudice, but that's a subject for a different outraged comment.)

    I don't think that you should feel you need to apologize and vow to be more sensitive to those who don't have laptops - or, by extension, cars, houses, etc. Yeah, some people don't have those things, and some never will. But there's no invisible barrier holding them back.

  3. Yes, it is possible for people to come from disadvantaged backgrounds and become middle-class/upper-middle-class. And I will argue that there are several obstacles along the way -- perhaps not "barriers" that prohibit them passage, but definitely obstacles that push them back and push them down. But that's another conversation.

    In my case, though, I've been upper-middle-class by birth, through no effort of my own. I was just lucky. So I shouldn't pretend it's something I've "earned" or something I "deserve."

    It's part of who I am, and it gives me some perks. I try to use those perks for good. If I screw up, let me know, I'll see how I can fix it.

  4. I think I kind of agree with both Graham and Criss here.

    On the one hand, we've been very lucky in that we *did* grow up in a financially (and emotionally, even through a divorce) stable family, and even when we moved to the US and Mom was struggling financially much more she had the safety net of Grammy and Grampa to help her get through that tough period. So that part was sheer luck.

    Criss, you also worked through school, got to college, and then went back and worked your butt off to finish your degree after working for a couple of years. So the life you live now-- your education, your job, etc-- were not just handed to you on a silver platter. You earned them.

    I guess it's kind of like we're all on this big step-ladder, and we start at different levels, and then have to work our way up that ladder to achieve our own success. And you may not have had to climb as high as others, but that doesn't mean the many hurdles you yourself jumped over shouldn't be recognized or counted as valid.

    Ah, life. It's never simple, is it? So many shades of grey... ; )

  5. I love this post. It's hard for people to acknowledge privilege, or dismiss those without it as being lazy, and that hard work alone can make things even in our society. It can't and doesn't. It never has.

    I benefit from class and education privilege. I acknowledge this, and like you said it doesn't make people evil or bad, it just makes me acknowledge this. I was lucky to have parents who understood how important education is, because I'm married to a man whose mother didn't understand. My parents didn't have parents who understood how college worked (admissions, loans, etc.). My mother had a father who dismissed the importance of a woman getting an education. I avoided all of that due to my privilege.

    Now I'm not privileged in other aspects. I'm a black women who grew up in predominantly white areas and went to predominantly white schools where people would make assumptions about me (I'm poor, my parents don't work, I got into college due to a quotas system, or recently as Glenn Beck said, I get all this minority money and put white people in slavery).

    As a woman and a person of color I know that it's harder for me to make the same amount of money as someone of a different color with the same education and same work experience. No matter how hard I work and pick myself up by the bootstraps. I know I'm at an advantage over someone in a lower socioeconomic status because I have access to things they don't.

    I don't think it's bad to acknowledge that in certain aspects I am privileged and in others I'm not. The problem I see is people see the world as equal when it isn't. The education system isn't equal. The class system isn't equal. People of different races aren't treated equally.Genders aren't treated equal. It's life, and it doesn't mean we all get into a corner and start whining about it, but it would be nice if others acknowledged their privilege and how it impacts society at times.

  6. The problem with privilege is that its noodlely appendages touch and taint everything in your life without you even knowing it.

    School was easy for me -- getting up and going to class was a pain, but I'm one of those lucky people who can sit in class and listen and get it/remember it. I'm also a good writer, so all those essays? Not that big a deal. The fact that my parents raised me bilingual I'm sure played a huge role in developing my linguistic abilities and giving me those advantages. I also read all the time, because A) my parents read to me as a child, B) my parents were readers, C) my parents valued books and education (modeling that behavior for me), and D) they bought me books all the time. Do you know how much money I wasted buying all those Sweet Valley High books? Imported from the US? Mom never said a word about "wasting" money on them (or trying to find them at a library, etc.) If I wanted to buy a book, I could. If I wanted a book for my birthday, I got it.

    All those factors shaped my experiences and my brain; these are advantages that many other people don't have.

    Even things like talking to teachers: my parents respected teachers, but I also saw my mom politely fight with the counselor at the high school when he tried to put me in 8th grade and she said I was ready for 9th grade/high school. At the time all I registered from that event was that my mom thought I was smart/good enough (and that I was going to graduate earlier than if they put me in 8th grade again). But subconsciously I also must have learned that out that you have to stand up for yourself when you need to, even to authority figures like teachers. That's why, when my English Lit professor gave me a low B on a paper where I deserved an A, I went to talk to him and gave him a piece of my mind, and he agreed and changed my grade (I felt guilty afterward, like I had whined for my grade, even though I did deserve the higher grade).

    Working with the UB kids I see students who don't know they can talk to teachers and GET A RESULT. I see parents who do not know that. All these little things add up to advantages that I had, that others don't. And things I need to keep in mind when I look at my accomplishments and at someone else's.