Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Check your privilege

This post has a context. The context of this post is best summarized here: Suzanne is quite articulate, and one of the bloggers I follow who mentions social justice who doesn't also post a lot of material that's not safe for work.

I dislike being white being made out to be the biggest part of privilege that we have to look at. Yes, I am a white, cisgendered, reasonably neurotypical (I'm smarter than you), middle-class, heterosexual female. But just because I have privilege does not mean I am part of the problem.

Probably one of the reasons so much of the social justice stuff I read rankles is that it focuses on race, and is written by Americans. Americans have a different experience of race than Canadians from small, northern, west coast cities.

To illustrate, let me tell you about the city I grew up in.

Quesnel when I was a child had one black family. They were the dark-dark skinned East Indian pharmacist couple and their two kids. Their girl was a couple years younger than me, but their boy was my age and in my class. He was all into sports and whatever, which was irrelevant to my reading-obsessed self, but he was also good at math. My biggest awareness of interaction with him was beating him in a national math competition that we both competed in, at a grade level above ours. I was smugly satisfied when I beat him, because everyone knew he was smart and I'm absurdly competitive. We had one openly lesbian family. They were friends with my mom, they had two adoptive kids. It apparently never occurred to my mom to explain what lesbians were, so I just found my sense of narrative incredibly confused by the fact that the one with cropped hair who always wore plaid lumberjack shirts was significantly shorter than the soft one with curls around her face. In the stories, the manly person is always taller than the womanly one, and so it was very weird. The population of the town was primarily Scottish-Canadian, Chinese-Canadian, Sikh Canadians, and First Nations. My family, good Catholic Scottish-Canadians who had been there for generations, was related to a lot of people, and had longstanding connections in the community. Like the Keens, a Chinese family who'd been there for ages. Harry Keen gave the eulogy for my great-uncle. The Hoys, another long-standing Chinese family, had at one point owned about a third of downtown, including taking family portraits of practically every family and miner passing through to Barkerville, the big Gold Rush town. Oh, and there were the Metis, who are the reason I was reasonably certain for most of my childhood that all French-Canadians were really tan. My mother's graduate work in First Nations studies meant I spent a fair amount of time on the reservations, and we were invited to potlatches. I also went to the open community days at the Sikh temple, and looked forward every year to when my mom got huge batches of pakora from a woman who made them by the lot in her kitchen at home. I saw a lot of 30-something First Nations men with alcohol abuse problems, too, that awful stereotype and social justice hot topic. Including two of my cousins.

Oh, right, I should mention: I'm the only one of my first cousins on my mom's side without First Nations status. I stand out at family reunions like undercooked fish.

On from race, as it is overstated: some of my closest friends are genderqueer and various shades of gay. Okay, yes, that covers most things I could say about that. I'm aware of issues around it, of the fact that a couple bi guys I know identify as straight on dating sites because they feel more secure in it.

When I was at my first high school, my first real friend was the apparently developmentally disabled girl in my theatre class: I only realized she was atypical when a teacher complimented me on my 'outreach.' The idea of it repulsed me: she was fun to hang around with because she was interesting and not obsessed with boys and drinking, not because it got me brownie points with authority figures. Awareness of neurodivergence is one of the reasons I contribute to the intermittent blog Speaking Human, which is partly dedicated at exploring and explaining why people act the way they do.

That covers everything at the top except class: I am intensely aware of class. I am aware that having an educated family has advantaged me (some people didn't learn how to use semi-colons until university, and that's just tragic), and that I will have a lot more opportunities if I complete a Bachelors degree at the very least. I connect class and education a great deal, because I value reading and erudition and good conversation and cannot comprehend that those might not be the essential elements of high society for everyone.

So now you know that I recognize privilege. But recognizing privilege isn't enough: being a responsible member of society relies on doing something about it. I call people out on discriminatory language whenever possible, and explain why I am doing so. I have, in my cranky way, tried to educate people about various issues in the belief that most prejudice is xenophobia and knowledge will dispel it.

I have a whole other rant about 'white culture' being brought up as a primary privileged group and the fact that 'white culture' is a thing that does not exist, because one can hardly get two straight cis white Republican males from the same state to agree on anything, let alone all white people across three and-some-ish continents (I also have another about how awesome it is that someone I went to high school with is running for Governor and how it makes me feel unaccomplished, but this post is already possibly the longest I've ever posted).

So remember: I am not racist. I am not misandrist. I do not care whether you are gay or straight or bi or trans* or genderqueer or ace. I am a misanthrope: I hate all of you equally.

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