Seeing Yourself as Human When You Have Privilege

I just read this article by Jezebel Delilah X about growing up in an affluent, black family. She talks about how her teachers treated her differently in school, and encouraged her classmates to be more like her.

That sort of dynamic fuels a resentment that goes far deeper than jealousy; it fosters the fear of not belonging, not having enough, not being worthy of respect, not deserving of goodness. It’s a feeling of displacement, of loneliness, of failure. No one wants to feel that way, and as history has taught us time and time again, people will fight for their equality and dignity. Each time my classmates attacked me, that’s what they were doing: fighting against the injustice I represented to them. I received privileges and affirmations, not fully of my own merit, but because I represented a juxtaposition to the stereotype that was projected onto so many of my classmates. Though there were no white people around, there was still privilege present—class privilege—and I was the one who benefited from it.

She provides important insights as someone who straddles unorthodox societal lines (oppressed by race, but not by class, except when race acts as a stand in for class) however her article is missing one thing.

How did she feel? How did she feel? How did she feel?

She goes at lengths to humanize her classmates by exploring their feelings (“That sort of dynamic fuels a resentment” – “it fosters the fear of not belonging, not having enough, not being worthy ” -“It’s a feeling of displacement, of loneliness, of failure”) but I have no idea how she feels. She only references her own feelings once, and then only tangentially.

The quality for which I was culturally ostracized—talking “white”—provides me with access to money at the expense of other Black people.

It hurt me, and my classmates, so much as a child.

She spares only three words for herself alone “It hurt me.” That’s all we see of her emotional reality as a child – hurt. She was hurt. How was she hurt? What was this pain? OH MY GOD, IT IS SO IMPORTANT – what is this pain?

It’s a delicate point, because “underprivileged” groups of various sorts are also typically under-represented in media, so I understand the impulse to shed light on their experience if you are given a platform. However, any sort of deep appreciation of the subjective experience of another human will have to begin with a deep appreciation for your own.

It is telling how Jezebel X’s father comforted her after rejection by her peers:

I was about six years old, sitting on my father’s lap, crying about being bullied by my classmates—yet again. My father did his best to lovingly comfort me: he pulled out his bank statement and showed me the tens of thousands of dollars he had in savings.

“Baby,” he said. “Those kids are mean to you because they are jealous. You think their parents got this in the bank? No. Plus, you’re smart. Keep getting those grades and one day you’re going to be the one writing their paychecks, determining how much money they take home to their families, and deciding whether they should have a job or not.”

All his words of comfort centered around their family’s higher objective value than value of their peers because of their money and measurable intelligence (grades.) Jezabel X has recognized how much this objectification cost her peers, but has not discussed how much it cost *herself*. She is important because her experience is important, not because of her money and her intelligence. That she was bullied as a child is sad, not because she is “better” than those children, but because her subjective experiences *matters.*

We don’t really have space for people to talk about the pain their privilege has brought them, and this is a problem. That we don’t have a space is sort of understandable – people with privilege tend to use it to co-opt safe spaces (e.g. a meeting of issues for People of Color will become a discussion about white guilt) so they get kicked out – but still problematic. The heart of discrimination is objectification of the other, and objectification of others usually stems from objectification of the self. A large part of the objectification of women in society is because attractive women will enhance the status of a man who “has” her, but for a man to care about this status is to objectify himself. A man who derives his self worth from his wife’s bodacious breasts and large bank account has failed to see that the true jewel he carries is his own consciousness. Instead, he has fallen in love with things that carry no life.

How can he appreciate anyone else’s consciousness, someone else’s humanity, without first seeing his own?


My Most Valued Posession

I was on the train, and a young black woman was solving some math problems on the seat across from me. She dressed femininely, with a purple skirt, and little white flat shoes, and this big gold ring that kept flashing as she worked through her problems. But, the part of her that carried the most life was her face which was unsmiling, set in deep concentration – real concentration. When I watch actors on TV work through “math problems,” I can tell they’re not really thinking. But this woman, she was thinking.

She had this curly hair that took up so much space – it was as if her hair was standing up on end because it was electrified by her immense brain. In that moment, it seemed *so important* – to her, to me – that what was ever in that head of hers got out onto that piece of paper.

She had so many markers of the type of person who is asked to hold it all in, exhibited by her femininity and her blackness. I suppose, narcissistically, she reminded me of myself a bit – or, that part of myself that sees things that I am asked to keep hidden. We sat there on this train, me watching her, she lost in her math, as two young women with brains in working order. But, for how long? What would happen to all those things we were unable to get out of our heads?

I was born in England and lived there from 1984 to 1990, the six years which spanned the mad cow disease epidemic. As a young girl, I learned how the disease would create holes in your brain that would drive you to insanity, then death. Since then, I have always had this fear of losing my mind in that way, and feared it could occur randomly at any time.

My mind is my most valued possession.

I thought that once when I was meditating. I would give anything else I own up to protect my mind, but at the end of the day, that’s all it is. A possession. Something to be used to its full capacity while I have it, but ultimately something I will lose. We don’t get to keep any of our possessions forever.

My grandfather is dying of Alzheimer’s disease, and I worried that it would be terrible to see him because his essence would be gone. But, when I saw him last, I didn’t see that. Instead, I saw something shine through him in spite of his crippled mind. If I have any sort of faith, it’s that there is some part of us that runs deeper than our possessions – some part of us that cannot be brought, or fixed, or lost and that all the things we cling to are not really who we are.

And yet, while I still have my mind, I want to use it. If I was diagnosed with mad cow disease tomorrow, I wondered, what would I do?

I would spend the rest of my life getting all these things I’ve seen out of my head, and down onto a peace of paper like that young woman.

I spend a lot of time writing about race and gender, not because race and gender are particularly important, but because they provide a lens to answer the question “why do we, as humans, do horrible things to each other?” That is the question we need to answer! Race and gender are useful because they have already been explored by many great minds, and provide deep insights into the experience of the oppressed. Yet, if we end up in a world where all genders and all races are equally represented in all areas of society, but we still have oppressed classes (the poor, the felons, etc.) then we will have gained nothing. The study of race and gender cannot be ends to themselves, but rather a springboard into the deeper workings of our humanity.

We need additional work to explore the mechanisms of the oppressors – we need people who oppress people to write about the experience of oppressing people. This is something I am deeply curious about, but have come to no definitive conclusions.

I think that status, and the role of status, is essentially the key to understanding it. I think status is *the* most important thing to people after they get their animal needs met. A great exploration of this with respect to the prison system is in Violence by James Gilligan. That book changed how I thought about the world.

Status is a false god, though – love is the important part, but very few people really get that. At least, I don’t think they get that until they’re pretty old or nearly dead. Most people in the US sell out love for status (wondering how? Just watch any romantic comedy ever.) It’s not their fault though.

People in the US are dealing with a deep level of objectification. The study of the sexual objectification of women can shed light on this, but again, we cannot stop with the understanding of the sexual objectification of women. We have to dig deeper, and see the material and mental objectification of everyone. Racism is another form of objectification. And, by objectification I mean we value the *objectness* of a person, not the *subjectness*. When we are interested in a person for how they look, what they do, what they can do, what they think as opposed to *what they feel* or *what their lived in experience is like,* I think we are valuing their *objective status.* Instead, we must learn to value their *subjective experience.*

Because, that is not only the most important thing – it is the ONLY thing. Our lives are 100% our subjective experience, what else is there? Everything objective that exists is filtered through the lens of the subjective to achieve its value. Yet, we ask people – all people, all genders and races – to violate their own subjective experience to enhance their social status as an object. How insane is that? How perverse is that? That is the deepest sin we commit against humanity, and no one ever calls it out, and it is a tragedy.

I need more space to write out these ideas – I can’t support them as well as I’d like, but I want to get them out.

I also think that we need a serious exploration of the role of technology in our society.

My generation, the millennial generation, had grown up with ubiquitous access to information. But, what have we seen? We have seen anger, and trolling, and horses fucking women, and killings, and just the basest of human behavior come bubbling to the surface. We have ripped the bandage of politeness off of society, and found a festering wound underneath.

So, where do we go from here?

I think the millennials have no fucking clue, but we are the ones tasked with solving this problem. How will we raise our children not to be traumatized as we have been? How do we brace them for this onslaught of images into the darker parts of the human psyche? We need to talk about that.

Censorship is not the answer, and will only make things worse. How can we accept humanity, in all it’s broken fucked up ways, and work on progressing it forward? How can we take this world of objectification, and move it into a world of subjectification?

I’m not sure yet. I want to think on it more, while I still can.

Sex and Not Sex

It’s ok not to have sex. It’s ok not to have sex even if you get turned on, and it’s ok not to get turned on at all. It’s ok to not be able to find a partner to have sex with. It’s ok. It is all ok.

However, to me, it often seems like it’s not ok. In the words of Andrea Dworkin:

In Amerika, there is the nearly universal conviction – or so it appears – that sex (fucking) is good and that liking it is right: morally right; a sign of human health; nearly a standard for citizenship. Even those who believe in original sin and have a theology of hellfire and damnation express the Amerikan creed, an optimism optimism that glows in the dark: sex is good, healthy, wholesome, pleasant, fun; we like it, we enjoy it, we want it, we are cheerful about it; it is as simple as we are, the citizens of this strange country with no memory and no mind.

To not want sex is highly suspect – a sign of poor health, either physical or mental. It is counter-evolutionary! After all, the human race relies on sex. However, we also only ever use the “naturalness” argument to justify *having* sex, never not having  it.

While having sex is undoubtedly a human urge, there are also times it is natural to not want sex. In animals, we see sex drive decline during food shortages or other times of high stress. Additionally, it is natural for humans to age out of high sexual desire – with menopause being the most obvious example. However, there is never any discussion of sexual normalcy with respect to low desire during menopause. In this case, we have produced a bunch of *unnatural* medical interventions to help women extend the life of their high sex drive, and to help men maintain potency. Which isn’t to say any of this is wrong – I just mean to point out that our culture’s investment in sex is far deeper than an expression of “natural” human urges.

And, despite our overt obsession with sex which seems to be getting worse, American are having less sex than ever before: ( which is apparently extra true if you’re white or Asian ( or if you’re young (

What’s going on here? Let’s start with the assumption that humans are not broken. For me personally, this has been a big assumption. Nearly all of my relationships have ended after a period of sexual anorexia due to my own lack of desire, of which I am always deeply ashamed. Usually, my partners have encouraged my belief that there was something wrong with me, because it was more palatable than considering that there was something wrong or undesirable about them.

But, what if there’s nothing wrong with me? What if there’s nothing wrong with us?

Then, we perhaps we are having less sex because we are in an environment that does not foster our sexuality. All of that porn, and all those tits, and asses, and slutty halloween costumes are making us less horny even if we pretend otherwise. Despite our nation’s declining sexuality, I only ever hear my friends talk about HOW GOOD their sex life is. Public displays of affection are on the rise, as are sucking face facebook photos. We may be having less sex than ever before, but we certainly feel need to publicly project the rare occasion when we actually “get lucky.”

Thanks to the internet, by the time the average American loses their virginity they have probably seen many depictions of sex without ever experiencing it. Not many accurate depictions, of course, many pornographic depictions – with big hard dicks, big hard tits, blonde heads, and hairless chests. They have seen sex that judges 99% of the public wordlessly by excluding them. Pornographic culture conveys the message that sex is not for you to have, only to watch – a message it is within the industry’s best interest to foster since less actual sex and more virtual sex leads to more profit.

In this environment, sex becomes about ego reinforcement rather than connection. People care more about being one of the “sexual haves” than they do about seeing the deep truth about who their partner is. People care more about having sex with someone beautiful because it reflects their own perceived worth back to them, not because they have an innate appreciation for this beauty. We have become isolated from each other through our own narcissism.

I remember once, some guy was going down on me, and I said “I feel like I’m going to cry,” and he said “Don’t cry!” He didn’t care how I was feeling, he cared about “being a good lover.” My crying would contradict that in his head, so he said “STOP STOP STOP” when I tried to connect my authentic experience to his. After that, my body froze up, and we ended our sexual relationship soon afterward. However, nothing was *wrong* with me. My body was protecting me. As soon as I realize that the person I am with doesn’t care about my experience, my body refuses to cooperate. When I was younger, I have tried to override it – but now I understand it’s saving me. I have wasted years with people who didn’t give a shit about me, and my mind may not have been willing to admit it, but my body knew and wouldn’t fuck them.

Our bodies are saving us from this culture. This culture is toxic, and our minds are ignoring it, but our bodies know it and they are refusing to play along. Sex without connection is not worth it, sex where we are resented by our partners is not worth it, sex we do not enjoy is not worth it. It is better to be abstinent. Our minds pretend to enjoy it, but the body doesn’t lie.

Not So Queer Friendly

Yesterday I was hanging out with a bunch of straight people and talking about burning man (I’ve never been.) There is apparently some survey afterwards you can opt to take that asks people how many new sex partners they have acquired over the festival. It differentiates between “sex” aka penetrative sex and “foreplay” which apparently also includes oral sex.

I asked why they gave this survey, was it to track STDs or something? And they said no, it seems to be more about getting a sense of the depth and type of connections people had with each other.

I made some comment like, “That’s not really very queer friendly because a lot of lesbian sex would be dismissed as foreplay by that definition.”

At which point, one of the guys said “Oh no, burning man is very queer friendly.” And I’m all, “Who are you, Mr. Straight Man to define queer friendly?” Only, I just thought that instead of said it because I was surrounded by straight people and didn’t want to make a scene.

Can any event where straight people outnumber queer ever be *really* queer friendly? We will not be able to approach the majority of people there romantically for fear of being rejected *because of our sexuality.* Sure, we don’t get beat up, but we are still seen as the “other,” as dismissed without consideration. As slightly subhuman, in a way. It’s a weird feeling, it’s hard to describe, but it’s different from being rejected (or pre-rejected) by a gay man. In my experience, most gay will still have a fundamental respect for your sexual orientation (perhaps because they also understand what it’s like to be attracted to men.) I don’t get that same feeling from straight women.

And, it is also different from being rejected by another queer woman who just isn’t into you. I guess most obviously, gay women are better about not unconsciously leading on other gay women, because they see romantic potential between two women. Straight women just don’t see romantic potential there, and I can feel really not-seen by them.

For me, in the end (perhaps as a bisexual) it always comes down to invisibility. When I told this guy “that’s not queer friendly,” he didn’t see why it wasn’t. He refused to witness my experience, and that is where most of the pain lies.


Bisexual Erasure – As Explained by Two Lesbians

So, I was watching this video, and I got to wondering, why couldn’t the main-video-woman get a bisexual woman to help explain bi erasure? I mean, we’re talking about the *erasure* of bisexual people, and somehow the best way to combat this is by… not showing any bisexual people? But, instead showing a lesbian who likes dating bisexual women? (Yeah, also, thanks for perpetuating the hypersexualization of the gender/sexual orientation combination with some of the lowest mental health statistics.)


But, annoying as this video is, it’s not really what I’m here to talk about. At least, not directly. You see, what this video is a prime example of is how *one group* talks about the problems people in *another* group have, without really providing any novel insight. Sometimes, I hear people of color complain about this – that they don’t need to be “saved” by white knights mansplaining racism. And, like – I sort of heard it, but when I saw this video, I began to understand a bit why they might find this shit hella annoying.

So, one of the obvious things, is people who are not in the specific discriminated against group can ONLY talk about the experiences they have HEARD about, while people in the discriminated group can actually talk about the EXPERIENCE. And, there’s nothing wrong with someone talking about second hand experiences, but in those cases it is important for the speaker to cite their sources. So, in these video, we got two  lesbians talking about bisexual erasure, but neither of them really know what it’s like – and, they never specifically reference any event that actually happened to a bisexual women. They only talk in the abstract.

It’s like coming to my house for Thanksgiving. My family is English, and we can go out and buy a turkey, and read up on “traditional” Thanksgiving recipes, but we kind of don’t fully get it. And, you can feel it. Same thing, these women don’t get it. “Of course true bisexuality exists” they say, while in the same breath casting doubt on it with “well, a lot of gay people use bisexuality as a stepping stone.” Sure, some gay people do that – but, they’re not bisexual. Many gay people identify as straight at some point in their lives, but when we’re talking about straight issues (like, say birth control or pregnancy) we don’t devote time to exploring why gay people sometimes identify as straight.

In the end, the entire video comes off as half-heartedly regurgitating platitudes about bisexuals. (Yeah, bisexual people are real! Bisexual erasure totally sucks!) There’s no real insight – what is it like to LIVE with bisexual erasure? How does this take a toll on your psyche, and how were you able to define your sexuality in spite of these shortcomings? What can you do do improve it? What can you do to be happy in a world that doesn’t see you?

The worst part, is it almost feels like these women don’t even *really* believe the dull, PC shit they’re saying. If you are really still mulling over “wow, bisexual’s really do exist,” chances are you’re not really as good a bisexual ally as you think you are. My girlfriend got pissed the other day, because her insurance company reaffirmed the importance of providing equal care to racial minorities (she’s Latina.) I didn’t get it at the time, but now I see, if an insurance company is still saying “we think hispanic people deserve just as good health care as white people!” as if it’s a statement that needs to be said, chances are they’re so behind the times it casts doubt on their ability to actually provide said equal health care.

Finally, I have to wonder, why did these lesbians even want to make this video? Warning: my answer to this question is totally not-pc.

I think these lesbians made this video to get some pussy. It’s not a coincidence that the lesbian who wanted to talk on bi issues fucks a lot of bi women. This video wasn’t really about lesbians trying to make space for bisexual women, it was about lesbians trying to make themselves look good by being knowledgeable on bi issues. It’s about lesbians trying to impress the type of women they are attracted to (bisexual ones, apparently) by going on you tube and spouting shit they think will make them seem appealing.

I don’t want to be a bitch – I’ve been there. My interest in issues of racial equality has jumped by about 1000% since I started dating my girlfriend. And, part of this is I desperately want to be accepted by people of color. I want to be liked, and loved. But this is MY need, and if I go into safe spaces for POC and start spouting whatever PC bullshit I think will get my ass liked, I am transforming a place for POC issues to be about my issues.

I think those lesbians are doing the same thing – they want to be liked, so they’re trying to be PC. But, by doing so, they made this video about THEM not about bisexuals. And so, in a misguided effort for acceptance, they perpetuate the same bisexual erasure they’re supposedly combatting.

Fame and the New Society

We are beginning to live in a world where fame is starting to become more important than money. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there. Several factors, I assume, made this possible – not least of which is food security. The world creates 1.5 times as much food is needed for the human population, although many people are malnourished due to distribution problems (see here.) Still, for many people in the West, the needs of *survival* have been met, so different needs begin to take priority.

There are a lot of irritating side effects of fame becoming the new source of currency, in particular, an increasing amount of noise as people cry out for attention. However I think it is also the beginning of the next phase of human existence (not to get too sci fi on you.)


Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – food supply is “Physiological” aka the red block.

We have solved problems that have been defining humanity for millennia, so now nearly all of American society is operating within the top 4 needs. “Safety” is still an unmet need for many Americans, particularly the homeless, but an ever increasing percentage of the population is primarily concerned with the “Social” and “Esteem” levels of need, which is exactly where fame lies. I expect, and hope, this obsession with fame will spread as increasing numbers of the world population have their physiological and safety needs met.

If fame becomes a big enough, money may become a thing of the past. Eventually. We’re a long way off, but people already work for free – on wikipedia, in open source, and contributing articles for journals. I write this blog for free, for the benefit of both my readers. Working for money has ceased to be a way to generate respect in the community. The richest people in the US are beginning to be resented by the population, and historically, high levels of resentment have not been sustainable. In the past, they led to revolution and revolt – but there is no need for things to get so violent in this technological age.

We have non-violent means of shaming people at our disposal, which are used regularly. With the rise of fame comes the rise of image, and maintenance of that image. If it becomes shameful to be rich, it will be a complete game changer for American society. I doubt, however, our consumer mindset will disappear. At its heart, American consumerism is really about purchasing social status. The marketing of objects is usually the marketing of identity -“buy this, and you can be that.”

We seem to be drifting toward an online identity, where the actual objects we possess are less important than the image we broadcast via the web. One the one hand, it seems more artificial, but on the other hand, it frees us of many of our material ties. If you could be a rich nobody, or a poor yet well respected celebrity, which one would you pick? (You can’t pick both.)

Back in the day, wealth and fame went together, but that link is being broken. The internet is essentially the exultation of the every-person so no longer will you have to be rich to get famous, and fame is no promise of wealth. This is one short step from money being de coupled from power, which would be astounding.

Sure, rich corporations can buy congress – but at the end of the day, congress relies on elections, and fame has the ability to trump cash. Right now, money is often used to *buy* fame, but someone who already had fame wouldn’t need it necessarily.

We may actually be at the start of a culture transcending money in many ways, yet it is unlikely to produce a utopian paradise. Resource scarcity will be replaced by attention scarcity, where we battle each other for the spotlight. Our physical manifestations will become less important as we build up these hollow online personas, and yet it is still a step forward – but toward what? What is our ultimate self-actualization as a society? I can’t answer that, but I do have faith in it.

White People, Stop Making Fun of White People!

Did you ever read the blog stuff white people like? Or, have you seen this article recently 36 white people who need to be stopped? Or, possibly this video, 10 things I hate about white people? What is interesting about all this interweb stuff is that it was all created by white people.

So, if people of color want to hate on white people – if this is part of their healing process for being in a society that marginalizes them – I can tolerate that. I don’t like it, and nothing anyone ever says will ever make me *enjoy* hearing my race ridiculed, but it’s fine. I’ll work under the assumption that the healing generated from such comments outstrips my own irritation, and I’ll suck it up.

But, I cannot *stand* hearing this shit from white people.

News flash: making fun of white people doesn’t make you any less white. It doesn’t make you any more literate in issues that people of color have (in fact, I’d argue just the opposite – time spent making fun of white people is time focused *on* white people, not on other races. ) It doesn’t make you any cooler, or more interesting, or more relatable. Instead, it strikes me as a narcissistic way to appear politically correct. “Look at me, I’m not racist, I’m not like *those* white people.”

But, you know, most white people – are – sort of like “those” white people. White people who are focusing their energy on how “fucked up” white people are without any real suggestion for improvement are part of the problem. Mocking your own race in an effort to distance yourself from the atrocities committed by people who are the same color as you is cowardly. It doesn’t stop you from perpetuating the injustice, it doesn’t heal any of the past crimes, it doesn’t provide any sort of improvement in any way – it’s just attempt to reinforce your own ego as “not racist.”

Admitting your own racism is a lot harder, a lot braver, and a lot more useful than mocking other white people.

So, stop mocking white people white people! You’re not fooling anyone.

Why Did White People Have Black Slaves?

I was reading James Baldwin’s Everybody’s Protest Novel, in which Baldwin roasts Uncle Tom’s Cabin (an anti-slavery novel written by a white woman, Harriet Beecher Stowe) and, he raises what – for me – is *the* problem with pop discussion on privilege today.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a very bad novel, having, in its self-righteous, virtuous sentimentality, much in common with Little Women. Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel; the wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart; and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty. Uncle tom’s Cabin like its multitudinous, hard-boiled descendants — is a catalogue of violence. This is explained by the nature of Mrs. Stowe’s subject matter, her laudable determination to flinch from nothing in presenting the complete picture; an explanation which falters only if we pause to ask whether or not her picture is indeed complete; and what constriction of failure of perception forced her to so depend on the description of brutality — unmotivated, senseless — and to leave unanswered and unnoticed the only important question: what it was, after all, that motivated her people to such deeds.

When I read that paragraph for the first time, I felt like Baldwin had shined a light into a part of me that was screaming. In fact, that paragraph is so good, I’m going to quote from it again.

Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel; the wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart; and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty.

Sentimentality is the mark of dishonesty. How true that reads, and how relevant. That thought extends outward beyond race, beyond oppression even, to hit at something deeply out of line in our culture. Why is it that 28% of “young adult” novels are purchased by people between 30 and 44? Why do so many of the videos that pop up in my facebook feed contain the message “try to watch this about crying?” Why do we want to watch deaf women hearing music for the first time, or cats reunited with their owners, why do straight people get group-think obsessed with gay marriage?

the wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart

Where, along the way, did we lose our ability to fully feel our ordinary lives? Why do we seek out extreme stories of emotion, to compensate for the deadness that has entered our hearts?

it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty.

What is acting as a signal of secret and violent inhumanity? James Baldwin saw this inhumanity in the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and now I see it everywhere. In particular, I see it in the discussion of privilege. So, if the “underprivileged” want to call out other people’s “privilege” – like, that’s fine and possibly even healthy. What pisses me off, however, is the way privileged people tend to “own” their privilege, how they attempt to construct a more flattering self identity by being “allies” of less privileged classes. Ultimately, however, it’s not *really* in their best interest to improve the state of these less privileged classes, because these “allies” need less fortunate people to perpetuate their own identity as an “ally.”

Or, another way to put it, is if there was no injustice in the world, there would be no liberals. Liberals feed off injustice, their identity, their purpose in the world is to fight injustice. And, I say this as a liberal white woman – a liberal white woman who wonders, “who will I be when we achieve equality?”

It is notable that Harriet Beecher Stowe campaigned for the expansion of women’s rights after the civil war, not to improve the lives of the recently emancipated slaves who she had so passionately argued for before abolition. What she seemed more interested in, and what James Baldwin called our out on, was *injustice* rather than *people*, or *slavery* rather than *slaves*. Discussions on privilege usually focus on the institution, and seem rooted in identity and narcissism rather than a desire for connection. Louis CK “checks his privilege” in a recent video about fat women, but the video isn’t about fat women, it’s about men. The fat woman’s rant starts with “it really sucks to be a fat girl,” but then launches into the issues *men* have that makes them not want to date fat women. “You think your dick is going to fall off if you hold hands with a fat girl?” the fat woman asks. Good question – but, we can’t ignore the fact that this is Louis CK’s show, that the space he made to discuss what fat girls feel was dominated by what *men* feel to be *with* a fat girl – coming from the mouth of a fat girl. He used her to ask questions he didn’t dare about himself, but he didn’t really shed much more light on what it was like to *be* her.

So, still – with all this discussion – the biggest questions are left untouched. As Baldwin pointed out, Stowe left unanswered the most important question of all – “what it was, after all, that motivated her people to such deeds”?

How could white slave owners get up every day and brutalize other people? How could this happen? How were they not driven to despair, or depression, or in any other way motivated to stop? How could they have desired their own prosperity at such a sharp cost?

I can’t answer that question right now, but it’s a question that needs answering and requires attention. Instead, I’ll ask another question which is more relevant to today.

How is it that we accept the mass incarceration of black and latino men? How are we ok with having nearly 60% of the prison system being filled with racial demographics that only make up 1/4 of the US population? How are we ok with the fact that one in six black men has been incarcerated at some point in their lives? (See source.)

Do you believe that one in six black men deserves to have been in prison at some point? To put someone in prison is to rob them of their life in the most straightforward way. As a country, we are committing a mass theft of life from men of color. How do we accept this?

If you’re like me, you may not have even thought about it for a long time. I’m nearly 30, and I didn’t really think of these issues until very recently, but I have known since middle school that black people went to prison more than white people. What was that knowledge accompanied by?

Honestly, fear. I am afraid of black men. Not the ones I know, but strangers – and, definitely the ones in prison. If you conjure up the image of a black inmate, you have conjured up someone I am afraid of, and this fear blocks my empathy. I’ve never heard another white person admit they are afraid of black men, and I’m ashamed to admit it on my blog, but it’s true. It’s true, and I know many other white people must also be afraid of black men, and this fear is keeping black men in prison. Liberal, “privilege owning” white people won’t say this out loud, and will probably condemn me as a racist for admitting it myself, but by not admitting it I would only be protecting my image at the cost of ever figuring out what is actually happening.

So, should I just get over this? Well, I’ve tried, actually, and there’s one problem. The men who shout sexual slurs at me in the street are overwhelmingly black and latino men, and my lizard brain can’t help but notice this fact. When I walk by a black man in the street, I tense up, because part of me thinks he’s more likely to shout at me than a white man is. Now, there are some exceptions here – a black man in glasses? A black man in a suit? I don’t fear these men. But, a black man in torn clothes who is clearly unbathed? I am afraid of him.

We can’t address white racial bias without addressing the long term affects of discrimination. If black men are more likely to go to prison, they’re probably also more likely not to really give a shit about violating the social norms that sent them there. White men don’t say bullshit to me in the street because they’re afraid of what other people around them will think, and because they benefit from playing by conventional rules (when it’s anonymous on the internet though, all bets are off.) My own fears and biasses interact with reality, interact with how people who have absorbed a lifetime of oppression actually behave in the real world.

So, why do we accept the number of black men in prison? Because we have made too many of them criminals, and by making them criminals once, we have given them an incentive to *keep* being criminals. Now, our biases that “black men are dangerous” seem justified, and polite society won’t openly admit this bias which only makes it even harder to fix.

To go back to slavery, I still can’t answer this question as to what made white people do it – but, I’ll take a stab at why they accepted it. Slaves lacked education, they had absorbed more physical and mental trauma than most people today can even conceive of, they were mourning from a loss of their own culture, and so they acted differently from white people, and differently from free people. Instead of seeing this behavioral difference as being directly caused by their actions, white people read this behavior to be an indicator of innate differences between the races that justified slavery.

Yet, white people must have seen that only because the *wanted* to see that. Why did white people want to see black people as slaves? Why did they want to see other cultures as inferior? I believe the answer to that question goes deeper than the material benefit they gained, that maybe it ties back to Baldwin’s point about excessive sentimentality and a fear of really living, but I’m not quite sure how.

How Ideas About Privilege Reinforce Racism

One of my internet crushes is whatever asshole writes the last psychiatrist, and one of his (I think it’s a man) themes is that the system defends against change.

Recently, I’ve been reading the word “privilege” everywhere in the media – often in conjunction with race, but not always. (This theory also applies to gender, sexuality, etc. – but, I’m going to talk about the race for right now.) Check your privilege! You know you’ve heard it.

Anyway – let’s say you agree with the idea that “the system defends against change.” (In this case “the system” can be thought of as “the media.”)

– The system defends against change

– The system is racist

– The system has completely embraced the concept of privilege

– Therefore, the concept of privilege is being used to inhibit useful change that would actually lessen racism.

Ok – so, to back up – what is racism? I’m sure there are many answers to that, but I’m going to go with “when members of one race are forced to absorb behavior against them that is detrimental to their mental or physical wellbeing because members of larger society choose to ignore these injustices.” This is systematic racism I’m talking about, not individual racism. Notably, I believe it is possible for members of one race to be racist against *their own* race – if, as part of larger society, they do not support actions to protect other members of their race. This happens sometimes, I think, because individuals expect they will benefit more personally than they will be injured by the actions that are harmful for individuals of their race as a whole. One of my other internet crushes, @dexdigi, writes about that here.

So, how does the concept of privilege solidify racism?

First of all, it sets up the frame of reference to be from the point of view of the white person. It’s “Check your privilege!” not “Check my injustice!” I can see why it took off this way – the media tends to favor the white point of view. White people have more trouble empathizing with minorities than minorities do empathizing with them. It’s telling, that even in our discussion of racism, we’re still parsing the discussion through the eyes of of white people. To *really* loosen racism, white people are going to have to learn to project themselves into the bodies of people of color. White people are going to have to *feel* a little part of what people of color *feel*. By keeping this discussion focused on what is happening inside the white body, we are preventing this empathy from developing. For white people to make this transition, they’re going to need to keep reading stories from the point of view of people of color.  Even just hearing a language change (Check my injustice!) would be an improvement, because it would invite the reader – for a split second – imagine what it’s like to be someone else.

The concept of “privilege” also implies a fix to something that’s not the problem. Many people with privilege recoil from wanting to talk about privilege, and in my opinion, justifiably so – they don’t want to lose it! For instance, sometimes feminists say men are “privileged” not to know what it’s like be scared walking home at night. This is dumb – I don’t want men to be scared walking home at night, I want women to feel safe. I don’t want it to be harder for white people to get jobs, I want it to be easier for black people to get jobs. These things shouldn’t be *privileges* they should be *normal*, and not having them should be called *injustice*.  The fact that the system has called it “privilege” makes it sound like some people are benefitting from the system being a certain way. Men don’t actually benefit from women being scared to walk home late at night, but by saying they have “privilege” sort of makes it sound like they do. This sets them up to defend it, no one wants to give up their “better” position, but they don’t actually benefit from this arrangement. Their wives and daughters could get stabbed. Similarly, black people having trouble getting hired doesn’t actually benefit white people overall, it just makes the economy smaller, and in the meantime we have to do something with all those people who can’t get jobs. (Prison, anyone?)

Lastly, the concept of privilege leads to a politically correct laziness. “Checking” your privilege is very easy – you just say “I acknowledge my position as a privileged white person” then don’t actually change any of your behavior. It has provided a code for people to project the image that they want (nice! liberal!) without actually changing the more destructive aspects of their behavior. It provides a way of objectifying people (“if I say all the right things, then I can’t get yelled at by minorities.”) As Lupita said, you can’t eat words (or beauty, works both ways.) Words are meaningless, if they don’t touch something deeper.

So, what do you actually do?

Anytime you want to “acknowledge your privilege” – flip it, at least in your head. Put yourself in the opposite point of view and imagine what it would be like to not have that “privilege.” Start with the assumption people who are complaining have a legitimate grievance, and try to understand it.

The deeper fix is to loosen the sytem’s grip on you. This is hard. I can’t tell you how to do this, cuz I haven’t done it yet. Check back later!

White People Gotta Write About Being White

You know, how sometimes people of color write about their experience being a person of color in American society, or whatever society they live in? (I live in the US, so it’s usually America.) White people gotta do that, but with respect to being white in American society. Or Peruvian society, or Somalian society, or whatever.

Now, whenever I say that to my friends, I often get the response “But, most writing is written by white people. We already have too much writing written from the white perspective – why add to it?” to which I have TWO retorts.

1) Most writing written by white people is written with the *assumption* of white ubiquity – aka, most white writers think that their experiences with respect to race are *everyone’s* experiences with respect to race. (This is a big problem right now in feminist circles, for instance – or so I hear, I’m not in those circles.) Or, perhaps more accurately, white authors don’t even *think* about race because it’s not usually causing them the type of problems it’s causing people of color. Calling out an experience as a *white* experience, it is actually *less* racist than writing from a “universal” perspective when the author is white. White people don’t have a universal perspective, they have a white perspective. Let’s be honest about it.

2) There hasn’t been a lot of thought, at least that I’ve come across, about what it’s like to *be white.* According to Louis Ck, it’s great, but I think that our culture has currently caught a PC Privilege-owning mind worm where you can’t admit there is ANYTHING wrong with being white because zomg, it’s clearly SO MUCH WORSE to be NOT WHITE. You can only say, “I admit my privilege” as you keep sipping your caramel macchiato. But, like – that’s wrong. I hope when we get racial equality, everyone doesn’t end up living the current “white” experience. And, the things that suck about being white are *totally different* from the things that suck about being black.

Would you like to be a slave owner?

I’m guessing 99.9% of people reading that said no, and the other 0.1% are into BDSM. That means, on some level, it sucked to be a slave owner. BUT BEING A SLAVE WAS WORSE! I’m sure it was.

The point is not to say who is the biggest victim, the point is to end slavery. To end slavery, you need to know why some people choose to have slaves.

When black slaves were emancipated in America, what was their model of success? White slave owners. It proved *very difficult* to end slavery, and we still really haven’t, we’ve just replaced it with different types of servitude. Better types! But, on some level, we still view a person’s success as proportional to the number of people he or she can control. CEOs, for instance, are right at the top. College students with 100k of debt they need to pay back? They’re the new serfs. We may not be as awful as we once were, but we have a lot of room for improvement. To understand this hierarchical mindset, we need to understand slavery – both, from the slave’s and the slave owner’s perspective.

Anyway, back to the contemporary experience of being white. A little while ago, I wrote about Asian fetish. I *totally* missed the boat on cultural appropriation. I assumed it was just a *physical* preference, but talking to a few of my Asian female friends revealed a lot more going on. Often, white men make assumptions – and feel entitled to explicitly articulate those assumptions – about Asian women’s personalities, or tastes. There was added complexity around a woman’s specific cultural heritage, and one of my friends who is an immigrant from China said she believed that she was subjected to a different beauty standard than her culture’s, and found it offensive that other races set the standard for Asian beauty. On the one hand, I wasn’t really qualified to write about that topic, but on the other hand, I’m glad I did because I got to talk to people about their experiences.

One thing that was interesting, however, is that a lot of my white female friends liked my post. I had written something that had reached them – and, I think what it was, was the discussion of how critique of beauty culture often implicitly reinforces typical beauty culture. Slim, white women are sometimes seen as status objects, and this position as a “status object” is often read as a form of privilege when in fact it is much more complicated than that. Without confronting the true complexity behind this privilege, a white woman cannot hope to truly understand herself.

More generally, I would argue that the entire concept of white privilege is complicated in a similar way. What is it that the white race is most privileged to do? Oppress other races. Is this a form of privilege everyone else really wants? Are we lucky to have that?

Even more importantly, how are white people dehumanized by this privilege? White women have access to some amount of power through exhibiting conventional beauty – as do conventionally attractive women of other races. However, these women exercise this power at the cost to their own humanity; to get any amount of money or control they must allow someone to objectify them.

What is the cost white people pay for oppressing other races? To eliminate racism, white people will *need* to understand that cost. When people like Louis CK talk about how great it is to be white, they pander to a politically correct audience, however, they also reinforce the notion that white people benefit from racism. It’s time to move beyond that.