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:
One of those benefits is that you can be a camouflage wearing, air-gun toting, 13-year-old white male with a real gun holster and a real tactical knife, and you get to stay alive following an encounter with the police:
Officer Jason Shreves, a 10-year police veteran who spent five years on patrol in West Baltimore, was responding when he was flagged by a frantic woman in an SUV. Hurry, she said. There’s a man with a gun.
“This is about to get real,” Officer Shreves remembers thinking.
He turned a corner and saw someone dressed all in black and camouflage, carrying what looked like an AR-15 assault rife. He was wearing a ski mask and a holster with what looked like a hand gun in it.
“Drop the gun and get on the ground,” he shouted. He’d drawn his service weapon, a .40-caliber semi-automatic.
The suspect obeyed and was handcuffed.
But when the police officer took off the ski mask, he saw the frightened face of a 13-year-old boy. The teen had apparently been strutting around the neighborhood with all his Christmas stuff, an Airsoft rifle and an Airsoft pistol, both of which shoot plastic pellets.
And nobody died.
Nobody died because Officer Shreves gave the teen a chance to comply with his orders, rather than shooting him 2 seconds after exiting his police car. It’s a shame Tamir Rice didn’t get that same benefit. It’s almost as if white people are treated differently in the United States or something.
When victims of sexual assault or rape share the story of their trauma, there are several depressingly common responses.
What were you wearing?
Why were you out alone?
Did you lead your attacker on?
Why were you drinking if you didn’t want to be assaulted?
Why were you hanging out with “those people” (c.f. people who blame women for going to frat parties and being raped)?
Those responses all blame the victim. They place some, most, or all responsibility for the sexual assault or rape on the victim, as if they had some measure of control over what happened to them. They don’t. They never do, because they aren’t the one committing the sexual assault or rape. The only person with the power to prevent a rape or sexual assault is the perpetrator. By not committing the act, no rape or sexual assault will occur. People have been the victims of sexual assault or rape no matter how much or how little they wear, no matter how much or how little they drink, in the presence (or absence) of friends or family, and in a variety of social situations (ranging from work environments to frat parties).
African-Americans and their progressive allies have received similar victim blaming responses as they continue to protest against a racist criminal justice system.
Eric Garner shouldn’t have resisted arrest.
Michael Brown should have listened to Darren Wilson and gotten off the street (or as some like to argue, “he shouldn’t have shoplifted”)
Tamir Rice’s father and mother had violent pasts.
All of these responses attempt to shift the responsibility for the deaths of the victim onto their hands. Eric Garner would still be alive if Daniel Pantaleo hadn’t placed him in a chokehold. Michael Brown would still be alive if Darren Wilson hadn’t shot and killed him. Tamir Rice would still be alive if Timothy Loehmann hadn’t begun firing at the 12-year-old seconds after exiting the police car. Some might say that these examples are different from victim blaming the survivors of sexual assault and rape. But here’s the thing: in both cases, the victim is treated as having some degree of responsibility for what happened to them. The victims of sexual assault and rape are held responsible for their victimization. The actions of People of Color (or their family members) who have lost their lives to law enforcement officials are used as justification for their extrajudicial executions (can someone honestly tell me they think the punishment for shoplifting-for the sake of argument, I’m conceding this point-should be death…that expressing your frustration at being racially profiled by the NYPD should be cause for death by chokehold…that the actions of a 12-year-old boy’s parents somehow justifies the execution of that child?)
An article at .Mic highlights a Tweet by Stephen Dacres that perfectly sums all the above up, with an additional piece of insight:
"*black man is shot* was his own fault
*girl is raped* she was asking for it
*white boy shoots up a school* he's disturbed & needs help"
— Stephen Dacres (@SRDtv) November 25, 2014
The message gets to the heart of things. It encapsulates many of the frustrations faced by minority groups: victim blaming, a lack of institutional accountability, power imbalances. It also speaks volumes about the empathy our society is willing to grant people when they fall into the category of “white male.” When people who don’t fit into that box are the focus — even if they’re the victims — they fall by the wayside.
Brown’s death isn’t the only example of this. In the past couple of weeks Akai Gurley, 28, was shot and killed by police while walking down a dark stairwell with his girlfriend. Tamir Rice, 12, was killed by a first-year police officer in Cleveland because he had an airsoft gun in his hands. And the Rolling Stone detailed Wednesday, among other things, the failure of a university to punish an alleged gang rape of one of its own.
Go back even further and similar instances pile up. Yet there are still those out there who believe white privilege doesn’t exist, or that black Americans are pulling the race card or that a woman who is raped somehow deserved it.
And yet when incidents like Sandy Hook and the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooting occur, the discussions tend to revolve around mental health: Why did this happen? How can we prevent it? How did we fail these people?
That’s not to say these questions don’t have a place; we can and must continue to work harder to prevent these situations before they happen. But when we’re not asking the same things when women and people of color are concerned — and instead try to find any way possible way to place the blame on them — that’s a problem.
If there’s anything to be taken from the event of the past few weeks, it’s this: Privilege is one hell of a drug.
The horrible lesson of the realities of white male privilege? When People of Color are the victims of police brutality, they did something wrong. The victims of sexual assault and rape acted in a manner that caused them to be victimized. Both groups receive blame, derision, contempt, or character assassination. From many people, they get no empathy or compassion.
But the white male who causes violence or commits sexual assault? He can be the victimizer, and still get compassion and empathy (for another example: the Steubenville rapists, got a lot of compassion and sympathy as if they were the victims, while the actual victim got a fuckton of victim blaming).
I wonder why white men are treated differently? (That’s a rhetorical question, btw)
Richard Dawkins has double down once again. Hell, he’s digging a hole so deep that it’s got to be getting pretty hot in there. You can read the latest Tweets from Dawkins here, where he shits on PZ Myers, ostensibly a friend of his. What are his reasons? I don’t know? Why does he dismiss the criticisms-explained at length, from many people-about his actions or those of Sam Harris? I don’t know. What I do know is that both Dawkins and Harris have a problem. They refuse to confront the ugly shit inside them. The following is a comment I left at Pharyngula:
As I started to compose this comment, I thought: we’re not asking much of people like Dawkins and Harris. That all people are asking is that they listen to what we’re saying. That they open themselves up to criticism and accept that they can be wrong. That they peel back their layers of privilege and recognize the signs of the internalized sexism they’ve carried with them their entire lives.
But then I thought:
Framing it that way appears as if this is an easy task.
I remember when I started confronting my biases. It *wasn’t* easy. I remember when I started seeing how women were treated. When I started listening to what women were saying. When I started recognizing the signs of sexism.
I was horrified.
It was everywhere.
I couldn’t escape it.
I couldn’t go to work and escape it.
I couldn’t go to a gay bar and escape it.
I couldn’t go to the movies or turn on the tv and escape it.
I saw it in the way people dressed.
I saw it in the way people acted.
I saw it in the way people spoke.
I saw it in the way people interacted.
One of the most striking moments for me came when I was sitting at a local gay bar and having a conversation with a friend. We were talking about effeminate gay men and drag queens and dating sites and more. This was maybe 2 years ago. I’d accepted that feminism was a worthy cause and was becoming comfortable calling myself one. But I was still in the process of understanding the sexist views I had.
Well one of those sexist views up and slapped me across the head right then and there.
I realized as my friend and I spoke, that all those people talking about how they won’t date a “girly gay man”…
•or those times when I said that phrase, followed by “I want to date a man bc he’s a man. I don’t want a date a man who acts like a girl”…
•or those people who put at the top of the Adam4Adam, Manhunt, or Grindr profile “not interested in nellie men, only want masculine men”
…I realized then and there that we…I…was trapped in thinking about gender in very rigid terms. I realized that I thought “men are supposed to be this way, and women are supposed to be this way”. I thought that any deviation from that was wrong. I thought that there was something wrong with a man acting like a woman, or having traits or characteristics typically associated with women. I realized how deep sexism ran. It runs so deep it affects how we view ourselves, as well as the people around us. It shapes our opinions of our friends, our family, our coworkers, even strangers.
Reflecting on that, I realize now, that we *are* asking for a lot from Dawkins and Harris.
But you know what?
We’re not asking the impossible.
We are not asking either of them to do anything we aren’t willing to do ourselves…what we are continually doing ourselves. We’re asking them to be better people. We’re asking them to look deep inside themselves and confront all that is ugly within them.
That’s where it becomes difficult.
Who wants to accept that there’s ugly shit inside you?
Who wants to accept that you can be capable of being a sexist/homophobic/racist/transphobic bigot?
That is hard to do.
It ain’t easy.
But that’s how we’re going to become better people.
That’s how we become a better species.
It’s not going to be a cakewalk. It won’t be unicorns and butterflies and chocolate covered strawberries. It’s going to be tough and it’s not going to end. It’s going to be a continual process that we carry with us for the rest of our lives.
Confronting the internalized issues that we all have is not easy.
But it’s damn well worth it.
And it’s something Every. Fucking. Person. Should. Do.
That’s the only way we’re going to reshape this world and leave it better for those who come after us.
I…We are not holding Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins to some impossible standard. We’re holding them to same standard we hold ourselves and others to. They continue to fail to measure up to that standard.
One day I hope they’ll recognize what they’re doing and dig deep…deep into their core and realize that they have some shit to come to terms with. I hope they do this because not believing in gods is NOT. FUCKING. ENOUGH.