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.

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.

Asian Fetish

Apparently, on OKCupid Asian Women get the most messages. This preference is true for men of all races except, strangely, Asian men. Interesting! I’m sort of jealous, but also having a little bit of schadenfreude at the same time. Cuz, you know, us white women hear a lot about how Western beauty standards damage the self esteem of women in other races.

But, you can’t blame us anymore! Western beauty isn’t where it’s at, it’s passé, old news! So, I hereby bequeath all of our liberal white woman beauty guilt to Asian women (and, Middle Eastern women who apparently also get a lot of responses.) Next time someone goes on about how our beauty standard is whitewashed, you can be all “what are you, stuck in 1950?” So, for realzies, white women may still be over-represented in magazines, but that’s just a holdover – it’s on the way out, as the racist old men who control the media slowly die. Also, are we even sure all those women are being “whitewashed?” Seems to me some of them could be being “Asian-washed.” As a very white English woman, I can testify that my particular very-pale skin tone is usually not in fashion unless some Winona Ryder renaissance is happening.

However, the way liberal discourse responds to white women being desired as opposed to Asian women being desired is very different. When white women are “what’s hot” it’s an example of an oppressive beauty system that is degrading to other races. BUT, when Asian women are “what’s hot” it’s an example of Asian fetish, which is degrading to Asians.

So – to simplify:

White women hot? Seen as privileging white women.

Asian women hot? Seen as dis-empowering Asian women.

It is worth noting, that according to Wikipedia Asian Fetish supposedly doesn’t exist, and even on OKCupid white men responded to Asian women and white women a similar amount. Yes, it’s true *some* white men say some really terrible things to Asian women (and, there’s a tumblr about that) but I’d suggest that it’s more that the race difference opens up opportunities for a *particular set* of vile things to be said.

This difference in how we read preference for white women vs Asian women reminds me of how we read preference for thin bodies as opposed to a preference for heavier bodies. Many heavier women complain that they are de-sexualized, and also that the only people who sexualize them are fetishists. But, what they fail to see, is that thin bodied women are also frequently fetishized – in that, many people who date thin women are not interested in their sparkling personalities, but have an obsessive attraction to a particular body type. Many heavier women won’t see this as a similar thing, but this is because of the ways that heavy women *themselves* are privileging thin bodies. On some level, men who are attracted to heavier women are seen as “fetishists” because we view it as abnormal to be attracted to fat women. Men who behave the same way toward thin women aren’t viewed as “fetishists” because we see that as normal. So – again, attraction to fat women is phrased in a way to disempower fat women, whereas attraction to thin women is phrased in a way to empower thin women.

Similarly, we have normalized attraction to white women so we see attraction to Asian women as fetishized. If you believe it is fetishizing to be attracted to Asian women because of typically Asian physical traits, but it is not fetishizing to be attracted to white women because of typically white traits, then you have brought into the idea that the white appearance is the default, and you may want to introspect a little on that. (I’m not calling you racist, but… well, think about it.)

I’m not saying that Asian women don’t face racism, or that heavy women don’t face size-discrimination. In fact, I’m saying the opposite of that – that racism and sizism are so prevalent that they they have infiltrated liberal discourse such that Asian women and heavy women are seen as being *disempowered* by things that would be seen as *empowering* white or slim women. We are denying the Asian/fat groups access to the power that we would grant the white/slim groups (and, yes, I hope women get power outside of their physical appeal – my point is Asian and fat women don’t even get *that.*) And, the problem isn’t with the fetishists – the problem is with is the liberals whose critiques of beauty culture end up implicitly reinforcing the prejudices they are attempting to denounce.

The trap is a trap, watch out for it.

Privilege and Dating White Women

Privilege has become something of an obsession of mine for the past few weeks, because there’s something so wrong about it, but something right too.

One of my old friends is a trans woman, called the “privilege master” by one of my cis white male friends. This is because, over the course of her life, people have looked at her and seen everything from a half-white “cis” “straight” “man”, to a lesbian Latina trans woman. Her opinion has varied over the years, from something that was effectively “Shut the fuck up, white boy!” to an acknowledgement that accusations of privilege could be used as a type of mental laziness, an unwillingness to fully consider the point of view of someone unlike you.

However, she has always maintained she could only date a white woman who was fully willing to acknowledge her privilege. But, one night, as we were re-having this discussion, I retorted “If you’re a person of color who only dates white people, you’re not allowed to bitch at me about my privilege,” to which she responded “maybe” – and, acknowledged that some people of color do choose to date mainly white people.

So, on the one hand, my statement was wrong – but, there was a kernel of truth locked in there. There has always been an uncomfortable question for me – what do I do when I’m dating someone who admits their preference for dating white girls? MANY of the people I’ve dated have explicitly told me this, with varying degrees of crudeness. If it’s a white dude telling me this, I tend to assume they’re a little bit of a bigot, but (honestly) I’ll date slightly bigoted people. When it’s a not-white person though I don’t know what to think.

The stated reasons are usually varied, but often boil down to “I don’t think people of my own race will like me.” For instance, I once dated a 5’2″ Asian man who claimed “Asian women want to date tall men.” Maybe that was true, and maybe that was only true in his head, but I had a fair amount of sympathy for his reason. Even if it wasn’t quite right, I could also see a similar reason “It’s less painful to try to date white women, who may reject me for being Asian, than it is to try to date Asian women, who may reject me for being short,” being his motivation. Regardless, to him, there was nothing *wrong* with Asian women except their taste.

Still, not every person of color with a preference for white women has quite so solid an alibi, and it gnaws at me.

So, to make an obvious point – I have no idea how many people of color have a preference for dating white women, but a disproportionately large percentage of the people *I* date have a preference for white women because I am a white woman. People who like black men don’t come within 100 feet of me, unless it’s to ask for a sip of my mojito or something. Anyway, I can’t place this in a larger cultural context very easily – but, I know these types of discussions have come up before.

Like in Why Don’t You Date White Girls? and Butch and Femme Through a White Lens (I’ve been reading a lot of Black Girl Dangerous lately.)

There are a few choice quotes here:

Over the course of the last few years, I have learned a lot about the institutionalized desirability of white women and the misrepresentation of black women as unsuitable romantic partners.

It was only as my stepfather explained how I qualified as a suitor to white women that it became clear that he was speaking to me as he would another black man. Indeed, I thought, this must be how many black men speak to their sons. Fathers, brothers, and male community members often espouse the idea that a white woman is a black man’s trophy for excellence. 

“White women are docile and loyal and they’ll take care of you…” he went on.

– Erika N. Turner, Why Don’t You Date White Girls?


Being feminine, aside from how triggering it is to feel forced to perform femininity as a MOC person, was hard – really hard – because femininity is viewed as intrinsic to valid womanhood; it is white and a reflection of female inferiority. I wasn’t a slim, straight, able bodied white girl and that overwhelming sense of inferiority is something I remember and resent when faced with anti-femme sentiment from white, MOC queers.

More poignantly, I watch Black butches and bois size up how white they can romantically and sexually aim for, how out of their league of Blackness they can strive. Because, like Frantz Fanon’s Black cishets, Black queers also want to feel worthy of white love.

– Arianne Diaz-Cebreiro, Butch and Femme Through a White Lens

So, as a supposed “trophy,” this is where I start to feel stifled on the discussion of privilege. On the one hand, I can’t deny I have regularly benefitted from being read as white, and having a white name, etc. On the other hand, these attitudes aren’t just coming from white people, and these attitudes don’t always help me.

I’ll acknowledge my privilege, but I also need space to discuss my experience of being a white woman – my experience of being objectified by *everyone*. Many people are interested in dating me, not because they care about who I am, but they are interested in what dating me says *about them*. Euro-centric beauty standards may have devastating effects on black people – adults and children. I don’t deny that, and, I don’t want to compare my experience in any way or say it’s “worse.” But, euro-centric beauty standards are bad for me too. Once, one of my romantic partners told me “you’re not the type of girl I usually go for,” (when referring to my physical appearance) and I took it as a compliment. I thought to myself, “wow, if he doesn’t like me for how I look, he must like something else about me.” That’s not an experience I usually get.

Most people who date me don’t really love me. They often aren’t even attracted to me physically. They’re just using my body the same way they’d use a fancy car, or a well tailored suit.

In fact, the experience of being a trophy is so painful I have reconciled myself to a life of being single if it comes to it. I’d rather be alone, but be seen as a person – the way my friends see me as a person – than I would live with someone who is using me as only an addition to their own identity.

Often, when we use the word “privilege” we use it to silence someone. Sometimes rightly so – if you are white, you should probably not talk about the experiences of people of color. What you *should* talk about, and what there’s not a lot of discussion on out there, is the experience of *being white*. The fact that we see the white experience as default, as so obvious it’s something not even worth discussing, is a sign of racial oppression. The white experience is *not* the default experience of living in our culture, and to talk about what it’s like to be *white* is less racist than not talking about it. Because, when we don’t talk about it, we assume everyone already knows it. However, everyone does not know it because not everyone is white.

To fully see race, we’re going to have to see all sides of it. The oppression of black women is intimately connected to the objectification of white women. The experiences of Latino immigrants must be contrasted with the experiences of European immigrants and Asian immigrants to fully see what racism is there. The problem isn’t that white people talk about being white, it’s that they don’t identify how crucial their whiteness is to their experience of everyday life.