I’ve been thinking a lot about thinking lately, a habit at least partially inspired by a sparkly friend of mine who writes over at shortsparkle.
Since writing about privilege, and politics (twice), I’ve been deep back into the issue of perception. Then today, while walking home in the dark, something struck me. Or rather, a nice man wandered past me, and as he did so he complimented me on my cardigan.
This was a turning point for me because I’d been reading Rose Hackman’s article (which has been widely circulated today) on whether or not straight, white men are getting a rough deal. Then a nice man complimented me, and I realised that I’d been scared of him up to that point. But not the girl walking in front of me, equally likely to be a homicidal maniac. Or maybe not equally likely, but this isn’t about statistics guys, it’s about perception.
I had been unconsciously judging this guy on his gender, and I’d been doing that because that’s how I’ve been taught. It’s not wrong per se, because the teaching came from a good place of encouraging my personal safety. The sexist overtone is a sad byproduct. This is the same argument which many of the men in Hackman’s article were using – having been taught to open the door for ladies as a kind of politeness is now coming back to them with feminist rants galore – when they are really only acting in the way they believe to be the right way.
To extend this further, I think I’ve intimated before that privilege is not needing to care about the impact of another person’s history upon them. It is ignorant and privileged for me to state, for example, that racism isn’t a problem any longer because people of all backgrounds can get any job and slavery is over. I understand that a way of combating that therefore might be to ask me, as a white person, to apologise for slavery and the lasting impact it has had on minority ethnic people.
In Hackman’s article, this same argument is used. That straight, white men feel silenced because they are expected to be accountable for the actions which were taken by their forebears, even though they weren’t complicit in those actions, and “didn’t choose to be straight, white and male”.
So here’s where the intersection lies.
You don’t get to deny your status as privileged just because you didn’t ask for it. But you do get to not be attacked for it. You don’t have to apologise for things you were not complicit in – but you do have to acknowledge that those things have changed the playing field. You do get to ask how you can best help to level that field again, and you have the right to not immediately know those answers.
Privilege is a question of perspective. And really, privilege isn’t the issue here any longer. Education (as usual) is the issue. If you’re in a position to teach someone to have a more equal view of the world, then do it. If you feel you’re lacking in that view, then ask for it to be shared with you. Privilege does not preclude the ability to learn and improve. Only ignorance does that.
Let me also note the alternate take-home message for the day, which is that you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, because anyone walking by you in the dark might be a murderer, not just the men.