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.