Warning: This post may offend some readers bc I’m going to talk about that most dreaded of words: P R I V I L E G E. While there are many types of privilege and multiple social groups that benefit from the concept, all too often, I hear the whines of white folks who deny the existence of White Privilege. Denial to the point of Losing. Their. Shit. The way some of them (please note the wording for you #notallwhitz people) react to that word, you’d think speaking it conjured a demonic entity that spews vomit, does 360º head spins, masturbates with a cross, and wants to spend eternity joined in unholy matrimony by their side. Common refrains of “I’m not privileged. I’ve had a hard life” or “I grew up poor, how can you say I have privilege” can be heard by these poor beleaguered souls doomed to an eternity of matrimonial bliss by the side of a demon from the nether regions of hell. But really, I need you folks to calm down. Stop being so damned testerical. Breathe. Engage those logical thought processes that you are so fond of proclaiming you possess and listen. Yes, it’s that time again. That time when you sit down, shut up, and listen. I’m going to attempt for the umpteen thousandth time to explain the concept of privilege. I have no idea why bc to be honest, bc some of you nincomfucks are *still* not going to get it. But here goes:
When we talk of the concept of privilege, we are referring to the benefits and advantages available to a group of people who belong to a dominant identity group (identity here referring to race or gender or sexuality or gender identity). These benefits and advantages enable those in that particular in-group (dominant identity group) to move through life with fewer obstacles than those who are in the out-group (subordinate identity group). Now, since many of the people sitting down for this lesson have a difficult time conceiving of White Privilege, I thought it might be a good idea to introduce the concept of privilege as it exists among those from a different dominant social category: sexuality. Specifically, Heterosexual Privilege. The following questions illustrate some of the manifestations of Heterosexual Privilege (i.e. largely invisible, unearned benefits and advantages possessed by heterosexual people that allow them to move through life with fewer obstacles than those who are homosexual, like myself):
- Do heterosexual people have their relationships and love lives denigrated by politicians bc they are straight?
- Do heterosexual people have to worry about being fired from their jobs due to their sexuality?
- Who faces the prospect of not being hired for a job bc of their sexuality-straight people or LGB people?
- What sexuality based obstacles have heterosexual people faced in their quest to adopt or foster a child?
- Do heterosexual youth fear the possibility of being rejected, disowned, or evicted by their parents bc of their sexuality?
- Do religious organizations reject heterosexual people because of their sexuality?
- How often have you ever heard of heterosexual people being demonized as pedophiles bc of their sexuality?
- Are heterosexual youth ostracized and bullied in school bc of their sexuality?
- Do heterosexual people worry that bc of their sexuality they will not be well-represented in public office?
- Do heterosexual folks have to deal with others telling to “tone things down”, bc they are too heterosexual?
- Do heterosexual youth in religious homes face the threat of burning in hell bc of their sexuality?
- Do heterosexual deal with workplace harassment that demeans or degrades them bc of their sexuality?
- How often do heterosexual people have to worry about hiding their sexuality for fear of violence or even the threat of death?
- When have heterosexual people been labeled mentally ill bc of their sexuality?
- When have heterosexual people had to hide their sexuality for most or all of their life to conform to the expectations of family or society?
These are just a handful of examples of Heterosexual Privilege. These are things that Heterosexual people almost never have to deal with bc they are heterosexual (and while some individual hetero folks may have dealt with some of those examples, as a social group hetero people do not deal with these issues). Listing these examples does not mean I’m trying to make hetero people feel guilty. Nor does it mean that I’m trying to make some sort of argument in pointing it out. It also does not mean that you do not lack privilege in other areas (for instance, while I am a cisgender, neurotypical male, which means I benefit along the gender identity, neurotype, and gender axes of identity, I’m also gay, black, and atheist, which means I *lack* privilege along the sexuality, racial, and religious axes of identity). What it does mean is that heterosexual people have a leg up in society bc society treats heterosexuals as the norm and all other forms of sexuality as a deviation from that norm. As a result of being treated like abnormal deviants, LGB experience oppression, marginalization, and discrimination in society. That bigotry presents obstacles that we face that heterosexual folks do not. These obstacles make our lives that much more difficult to lead than heterosexual folks. We point out the existence of Heterosexual Privilege so that people can help dismantle the social structures and the systems of power that benefit heterosexual people to the detriment of people of other sexualities. IOW, leveling the playing field such that hetero folks do not have unearned advantages based on their sexuality.
That’s Heterosexual Privilege. For those who were paying attention to the above examples of Heterosexual Privilege, perhaps you can see how Privilege as a concept can extend to other groups who possess the majority of social, political, and economic power, and thus are able to navigate life with fewer obstacles than people who do not have access to that power. People like African-Americans. Think about the obstacles and difficulties faced by black people in the United States. Consider for a moment that black folks:
- are imprisoned at a disproportionately higher rate than white people
- have been the primary targets for the War on Drugs for decades
- are disproportionately the victims of excessive police force
- in the criminal justice system face stiffer sentencing than white folks for the same crimes
- have been denied goods and services bc of their race
- have been demonized by the Republican Party and conservatives as lazy moochers for decades
- have been enslaved
- have been segregated
- have experienced lynchings and violence from civilians and white supremacist organizations
- are viewed as good enough to be the help, the sidekick, or the entertainment in Hollywood movies, but are rarely allowed to step beyond the confines of such typecasting to be protagonists and antagonists
- have had their accomplishments and achievements in society ignored and whitewashed
- continue to be viewed as less intelligent than white people
- face discrimination in hiring practices based on the sound of their names
- have had scientific testing done on them without their knowledge or consent
- are viewed as more tolerant to pain and thus receive lower quality healthcare than white people
All of these things (and more) have been experienced (and in most cases continue to be experienced) by African-Americans in this country as a result of the denial of our dignity and the devaluing of our lives. White people do experience marginalization in the United States based on their race. But before you think I’m denying the struggles of white people, hold up. I’m well aware that white people face struggles. White gay people face homophobia. White trans people experience transphobia. White women face misogyny and sexism. White disabled people face ableism. But white people in the United States do *not* face discrimination or oppression based on their race. That is something that African-Americans (as well as other PoC) *do* experience. White people do not share in the experiences of blacks bc of the privilege they neither earned nor asked for. It exists bc we live in a society that places a premium on whiteness.
This has been today’s *free* lesson in privilege. If any further instruction is needed, I’m charging your asses.
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