Privilege is a Four Letter Word
Privilege is a four-letter word in this country. Nothing convinced me of this more than the past two week’s coverage of the Kavanaugh hearings, though as a white woman I have more than enough evidence of this without 24/7 news coverage. As a white person, I have lived with privilege my whole life and for most of it would have denied this fact to the death. Why? Because the second someone said “white privilege” I would raise my defenses, take it personally and insist I wasn’t racist. I couldn’t be. After all, I had non-white friends and, late in my denial, I even had a Black husband.
But the reality is I do reap the benefits of white privilege. And benefiting from white privilege does not equate to being a racist individual. It does, however, mean that you’ve benefitted from an unjust, biased system.
As a woman, I have been on the opposite end of male privilege. Feeling the need to prove myself, my ability to compete, to be smart, to be heard, and to be legitimized. I have been so socialized to feel less than that I went (and, if I’m being honest, still do go) into nearly every interaction with men feeling defensive and ready to battle.
And as we look at what’s happening in our country, there is no denying that the intersection of whiteness and maleness has created a superstorm of privilege that is nearly impossible to deconstruct. White men, by and large, walk around seeing the world through their lens of dual privilege. The problem is that our society was constructed by white men and so they don’t even realize that they’re looking through a lens. To them, this is just how the world is and when you’re a woman looking through your lens or a person of color looking through your lens and you try to upend the status quo, you’re made to feel that something is wrong with your vision.
What’s worse is that privilege intersects multiple facets of who we are. There is no doubt in my mind that we know who Christine Blasey Ford is because she is white. If she was a woman of color I doubt we ever would have heard her story. But we heard Anita Hill’s story twenty-seven years ago you say? Yup, we did, but her complaint was against a Black man. Had Clarence Thomas been white, I’m not sure Anita Hill’s story would have made it on to the national stage. Likewise, had she been white I don’t think Clarence Thomas would have made it to the bench.
Disagree? To further my point, let’s think about the narrative that arose as Ford’s testimony gained ground. Our own president claimed that young men were at risk and this was a scary time to be a boy. Wait, what?? A woman testifies about being sexually assaulted as a teen and we revert to a narrative about how scary it is to be a teenage boy?? If that’s not the perspective of those with male privilege or blinded by the patriarchy of a society, I’m not sure what is. And this also denies the voices of Black and Brown folks who’ve long feared for the lives of their sons, but have been ignored and silenced by the dominant White narrative.
And here I’m just talking about the complicated nature of race and gender. Class, sexual orientation, immigration status, religion…they all impact the credibility we give to a person trying to raise up their voice in protest and we raise no voice higher than the voice of white men; straight, middle to upper class, white men. But to imply privilege when pointing out this very obvious fact is akin to cursing them out. We saw this in the distorted, angry faces of Brett Kavanaugh, Lindsey Graham and the multitudes of other white men who couldn’t dare to believe that maybe it’s not our vision that’s distorted, but theirs.