If you have a lot of privilege, you’ve learned to take up all or most of the space when you’re around people below you in the hierarchy.
It’s important to learn to stop doing that. It’s important to learn how to be in a space without dominating it. It means learning to listen to people you’ve been systemically taught that it’s ok to talk over.
This can be hard to learn. When you stop dominating spaces, you have to live with less control, space, and attention than you’ve become accustomed to. You’re going to feel constrained, and like the other people are taking up all the space — even if you’re still taking up most of it.
And, once it becomes clear that you’re trying, people will express anger at you a lot more than then used to. This might feel really unfair, since you’re acting better than you ever have before, yet you’re attracting a lot more anger and criticism.
The reason it works this way is because people used to put up with you treating them badly because they didn’t see any point in objecting. Most people who have privilege and power over others don’t especially care about how it hurts people. Further, a lot of them get really angry and retaliate when it’s pointed out. You’ve shown that you’re someone who might actually listen. That means you’re the one who gets yelled at.
It’s not fair, but the people who are yelling at you aren’t the ones responsible for the unfairness. Don’t get angry at them for it - get angry at the people like you who aren’t getting yelled at because they don’t give a damn. And maybe start calling them on it and make their indifference cost them something. You’re probably in a much better position to do this than the people below you in the hierarchy.
And keep in mind that the situation faced by the people who are yelling at you is a hell of a lot more unfair than the situation you’re in.
That said, don’t beat yourself up for feeling frustrated, either. This is hard, and it’s ok to find it difficult. You’re going to make mistakes, and some of this is really going to suck. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or that you can’t learn how to act right. (Also, sometimes people will tell you that you’re oppressing them when you’re not. You can’t automatically assume that everyone is right when they tell you off — but if you’re in a highly privileged group and you think *everyone* who is telling you off is wrong, you’re probably the one who is wrong.)
Just keep trying, and don’t make the people below you responsible for making you feel better.
It can be TRULY HORRIBLE to be yelled at, while others (often doing stuff you think is terribly, terribly wrong, often who are much more successful and powerful than you) are not yelled at… and sometimes join in the yelling at you. It feels extremely unfair.
But how much more horrible is it for other people who have had to deal with unfairness for years and years, unfairness they cannot opt out of.
Huh. Privilege? I’m supposed to be more privileged than average: white, American, straight, highly educated, (raised) middle-class by loving-and-still-married parents— I don’t think being female and now educated-working-class makes me underprivileged enough to consider myself NOT highly privileged. So is this really about privilege? Not just a personality trait thing and it may be EASIER to have certain traits with certain privileges? Because it’s the exact opposite of me. Lord HELP me, it’s the exact opposite of me. At some point in my childhood I developed the Invisibility “superpower.“ Seriously, people who claim they’d want Invisibility as a superpower obviously have never EXPERIENCED Invisibility. The thing is, right now in my life, in my psychological therapy exercises, my general attempts to grow as a human being, I’m trying to stop being invisible. I’m trying to become aware of how I unconsciously try to take up as little space as possible. I’m trying to convince myself that I DO have just as much right to exist as everyone else in the world does. I’m trying to learn to SPEAK UP, and assert my opinions, and acknowledge that I have needs and wants of my own (even though I’ve been so good at denying this that MOST TIMES I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT THOSE ARE). So, since I’m Privileged… do I NOT need to do this? Because if I do I WILL be automatically taking up too much space? I know, I’m being stupid. I’m missing the point. I’m derailing the Important Conversation that needs to take place. (But how derailing can I be if only 3 people follow this Tumblr anyway?) I’m making it ALL ABOUT ME. PITY ME, BOO-HOO. Yeah, I guess I’m taking up too much space already just because I have feelings and confusions of my own. But at the same time I’m SUPPOSED to start doing this, expressing myself and all. So that’s what I’m doing. I’m not trying to derail anybody. I’m just trying to speak up about how hard it is to convince myself that I have a voice that needs to be heard when so many well-meaning people keep saying that my SORT of voice needs to be heard less. Maybe I’m just hoping somebody will tell me otherwise. That NO, obviously, nobody’s saying that if you’re Privileged at all then you need to go dig a hole for yourself and fall into it rather than try to be an active, creative person. But then again, the other thing I need to learn is to stop relying on other people for approval. GAH. Growing is hard.
This is a reason I think I wrote that post wrong. I’m sorry.
Privilege is — a concept that I think is kind of wrong shaped. It doesn’t quite mean what I’d like it to mean, to communicate the kind of power dynamic I’m talking about.
I agree that being taught to be invisible is horrible, and common, and hard to overcome. For whatever reason it happens. And that you have to think for yourself, and work through your own perspectives on things. You can’t learn to do right by others if you’re trying to erase yourself.
And, all too often, discourse about privilege can get people to think they should be deeply ashamed and try to erase themselves. Or that privilege is something they should be constantly naming and atoning for. And no good comes of that. The point is to be aware of power relationships, and things that hurt people, and treat people well in the face of what is.
Everyone has some sort of privilege. Everyone has some sort of power over others. It’s not a sin; it’s something it’s important to be aware of and deal with. Because unacknowledged power is dangerous.
I think it’s worth being away that learned invisibility is harder to overcome if you’re also being held down by racism. Or by being dependent on people who want you to stay invisible for medical care you need to survive. Or sexism. Or poverty. Or any number of other things. Especially if a lot of them apply to you.
Because stuff like that matters. But it doesn’t mean that your problems aren’t real, or that it’s all a matter of box checking or anything. Isms are — part of the world. But not the only part. And, push come to shove, you have to think for yourself, rely on your own judgement, and do what you can to make it as good as possible.
I’m sorry I posted that post prematurely.
I think the whole concept of “privilege” as it’s commonly used in social-justice spheres is flawed and, as you said, wrong-shaped. I can’t explain my problems with it succinctly (I’ve tried just now, several times, and had to delete it because it was starting to take over the whole post), but the end result is: it’s not constructive. It approaches the problem of unacknowledged power from the wrong end, and in doing so, it suggests no solution and provokes no reaction beyond guilt and resentment.
I think the most constructive way I’ve found of framing it is this: privilege is a blind spot. When you belong to a group that is treated as the “default" for human beings and everyone not in it is considered “other,“ you are trained not to see the ways that affects the out-group(s).
I like this way of thinking about it.