Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Privilege and Mindfulness: Part 2

After I realized the extent to which men work from a base of unacknowledged privilege, I understood that much of their oppressiveness was unconscious. Then I remembered the frequent charges from women of color that white women whom they encounter are oppressive. I began to understand why we are justly seen as oppressive, even when we don’t see ourselves that way. I began to count the ways in which I enjoy unearned skin privilege and have been conditioned into oblivion about its existence.
I repeatedly forgot each of the realizations on this list until I wrote it down. For me white privilege has turned out to be an elusive and fugitive subject. The pressure to avoid it is great, for in facing it I must give up the myth of meritocracy. If these things are true, this is not such a free country; one’s life is not what one makes it; many doors open for certain people through no virtues of their own. -Peggy McIntosh* 
Yesterday, I wrote a bit about the importance of being mindful of privilege, and of listening to and believing accounts of the oppression of others. Today I'd like to share some more on being mindful of privilege and what that looks like for me.

I have found that the best way to understand the oppression others experience is to be mindful of my own privilege. In my undergraduate Women's Studies coursework, I had the opportunity to complete an assignment reflecting on the systems of privilege and oppression that I experience in my life. As part of that assignment, I was to choose three sources of privilege and oppression and make lists of specific ways in which I experience them.

The process of examining my privilege opened my eyes to the oppression of others more than anything else I've read, written, seen, or heard. In the interest of inspiring others to do the same, I'm sharing excerpts from my privilege lists here today. Please note that these lists are not intended to be complete, but to provide examples of privilege that are often overlooked. I apologize in advance if ignorance caused me to misstep in developing these lists, and invite you to bring any such missteps to my attention. The systems of privilege I chose to focus on were White Privilege, Able-Bodied Privilege, and Assumed Heterosexual Privilege (I use the qualifier "assumed" because while I do not identify as heterosexual, my monogamous heterosexual marital status affords me that privilege).

White Privilege

  • I can be reasonably sure that I get hired for jobs based on my qualifications and ability, rather than the employers need to fill a quota based on my skin color for affirmative action.
  • My classmates do not assume that I am less worthy of my financial aid due to affirmative action.
  • I can walk into most places that I would desire to be and be reasonably sure that most of the people there will share my skin color.
  • If I so choose, I can have a variety of health care professionals to choose from who share my skin color.
  • It is not assumed that I will be good at certain sports because of my skin color.
  • I can easily find hair and skin care products that work for my hair and skin type (and color) in stores.
  • I could date members of other races without people assuming I’m trying to infiltrate the dominant group.
  • I do not have to worry that I will be targeted for violence based on my skin color.

Able-bodied Privilege

  • I can count on entering places of business and homes without difficulty.
  • I can ask for help without feeling embarrassed.
  • I can use any public restroom without assistance.
  • I don’t have to worry that others will question my intelligence or mental capacity based on my bodily ability.
  • I do not have to account for extra time each day for elevators, etc.
  • I can purchase any home or vehicle that I can afford without having to modify it for my needs.
  • People do not pity me or assume I am unable to do certain things based on my body presentation.
  • My able-bodied status is not used as an insult or joke (i.e. “that’s retarded” or “short-bus” or “special Olympics”).
  • I can go about my daily life without requiring assistance or special accommodations.

(Assumed) Heterosexual Privilege

  • I was able to legally marry my partner of choice.
  • I do not have to worry that I’ll be unable to visit my partner if he his hospitalized.
  • I am able to make healthcare decisions for my partner in the event that he is unable to.
  • It is not automatically assumed that I will raise my child(ren) with immoral values due to my sexual orientation.
  • I can express affection toward my partner in public without fear of being verbally or physically assaulted.
  • I do not have to worry that others will consider my relationship to be a bad example to their children.
  • If I express affection for another female, it is assumed to be out of friendship and therefore considered appropriate.
  • I have no problem accurately identifying my relationship on forms that require it for demographic purposes.
  • My daughter will not be discriminated against or chastised due to her parents’ relationship.
  • I can see my relationship type portrayed as “normal” in advertising and in the media.
  • I can easily find greeting cards to purchase for romantic holidays or purposes.

Will you join me in reflecting on your privilege? Spend a few days being mindful of the things you take for granted as you move throughout your daily life. Consider the reasons why you take things for granted. Did you immediately fear for your physical safety when you got pulled over for that traffic violation? No? White privilege.  Did you think twice before taking a sip of the drink you left unattended momentarily, for fear someone may have slipped something in it? No? Male privilege. Did you have to check for a ramp first before you walked into that building? No? Able-bodied privilege.

Start by focusing on or two sources of privilege. Consider things like white privilege, male privilege, class privilege, straight privilege, age privilege, religious privilege, and able-bodied privilege. What other sources of privilege might you experience? It will probably be hard at first. That's okay. This is complicated stuff, and you'll be trying to think in a way you've never had to think before. Just give it a try and do the best you can. I promise you'll learn something. By understanding the specific ways in which you experience privilege, you can increase your mindfulness concerning privilege, your compassion toward others, and your understanding of the specific ways in which others experience oppression. 

*Recommended Reading: White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh

If you like this blog, please vote for me on 
  Babble's Top 100 Mom Blogs
 Thanks for your support!

1 comment:

  1. I read this post days ago and it's really stayed with me. I am taking up your challenge to view clearly the privileges I have and appreciate what life might be like without them.

    In my own life, I am considering another privilege too: human privilege. Reading this post in combination with your post on nursing your daughter reminded me that I had the privilege of nursing my daughter when she was a baby, and that I continue to have the privilege of caring for her until she is grown. Mamas of other species aren't always allowed that privilege.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...