Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Privilege, Language, and Dialogue in Identity

In recent posts at Feministe, Womanist Musings, Women's Glib, and a few other spots, the discussion of labels has been heated and torn apart. It's a difficult issue for me, because it's one of those things where staging a dialogue isn't acceptable, but there are so many viewpoints on it that it's hard to handle. My own comments were as privileged as the original post, and I took all the criticisms therein as if they were directed at me.

I'm new to this, frankly, and I have a hard time handling it. Not the feminism, but the intersectionality of equity movements and how they work against each other. The roots of my feminism are academic, and so are inherently based around a privileged class and a privileged viewpoint. I am accustomed to discussing things round-table style, under the assumption that a discussion between people is the fairest way to hash this stuff out. So when I began asking and was quickly privilege-checked for expecting others to educate me, it was painful in a way that I haven't totally recovered from--a sure sign of the privilege associated with the issue.

The heart of the matter, I suppose, is that you can't check your privilege at the door. It isn't a jacket; it's more like your scent. It will follow you around the party wherever you go, and while some may think it's a lovely scent, others may find it downright appalling. That's the point. If you're being smart about it, you don't bathe in acrid fragrances before you leave the house. You realize that what you were born with may be offensive enough, and maybe you try to minimize it by showering regularly.

And when someone tells you that you stink, by God, go take a bath. Don't argue that you've got the most wonderful perfumes on and they should realize the care you put into your preparations for the evening.

So here it is, on the table: I'm white, female, cis, abled (I have a visible skin condition that occasionally affects the way people interact with me but doesn't debilitate me on most days), queer, young, middle-class. I am pretty high-tier on privilege ladder.

Sometimes I get it wrong. I don't ask you to excuse this. In fact, I'd much rather be called out on it. If you can bear to be nice, great. If not, I'll take that, too.

A few thoughtful posts on the matter (I'll add more as I come across them; this post may end up permalinked):

Kittywampus: What Intersectionality is and Isn't
Echidne of the Snakes: Culture and Privilege
What Tami Said: Nobody knows the troubles of a black womanist blogger in the white femisphere
Womanist Musings: Can a White Woman Be a Womanist?
Womanist Musings: The Name of This Blog Is
Womanist Musings: Womanism/Feminism Feminism/Womanism
Global Comment: Clean Up Feminism, Then We'll Talk

A lot of those are womanist discussions, which is both positive and negative, because while feminism has been exclusive of women of color, womanism has itself had a tendency to primarily include black women. Neither is truly inclusive of trans issues, among other things. In either case, there is a lot at stake and a great many balls in play on this court. Privilege, again, has determined who is playing and who is in the stands.

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