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Feminspire | April 19, 2014

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Privilege Discomfort: Why You Need to Get the Fuck Over It

Privilege Discomfort: Why You Need to Get the Fuck Over It

There exists a kind of vacuum effect that occurs when people, particularly people who are privileged (which most of us are in some manner or another), read or learn information about the manifold oppressions that exist in society today. To be clear, when I say privileged, I am not talking about the upper-class “1 percenters” that we see in shows like Gossip Girl. I’m talking about white people, men, straight people, cisgender people, thin people, able-bodied people, and people who might not necessarily be rich, but don’t want for basic needs such as food and shelter. This statement alone might turn off a lot of you reading this — I know from experience that being reminded of privilege is not only uncomfortable, but is often, amazingly, viewed as boring or irrelevant.

When privileged people are confronted with information about the discrimination and oppression experienced by those who are less privileged, their responses are often embarrassingly predictable. Anyone who has even a cursory involvement in anti-racist, feminist or queer activism has experienced the “we’re not all like that!” echo chamber — that not all men are rapists, that not all white people are klansmen, that not all straight people beat up queers. There is a ton of excellent writing on the silencing and offensive effects these sorts of statements make, and it’s not my purpose to write about them here. Rather, I bring up the “not all (white/straight/male/abled people) are like that!” retort to illustrate what is one of the most jarring and frustrating responses to being presented with uncomfortable information regarding oppression, particularly for those on the other side of the fence (or those of us who are working to be allies to those on the other side of the fence).

I have a relevant example that I recently observed in a college classroom: On the first day of a class that focuses on the politics of the civil rights era, an argument erupted between a white student and a black professor. The professor, a scholar and veteran in the field of civil rights who has studied race politics in our small mountain city, made the bold statement that one of the largest and most beloved high schools in our region is a racist institution. The student, an alumnus of the high school, disagreed immediately. He began bringing up specific teachers and programs, which the professor was well aware of. This argument has continued every class meeting, with the student continuing to disrespect the professor and even bringing in information he gathered outside of class to refute his point.

As alarming (and fascinating) as this situation has been to watch at my otherwise polite and 96% white liberal arts university, it sparked in me a conundrum that I’ve struggled with myself and watched other people struggle with: Why do people become so defensive when confronted with the possibility of their own prejudice? What is it about the suggestion that we benefit from systems of inequality that causes so many people (particularly, in my experience, men and white people) to claim that they’re not “all like that”?

In my attempts to get to the root of the conundrum, I decided to use myself and other “well-meaning” white people that I know. Many of us consider ourselves liberal, even radical. We all have or have had black friends. Most of us probably voted for Barack Obama, and a lot of us are fans of rap and hip-hop. To all of us, my past self included, the assertion that we could be racist and that we definitely benefit from our white privilege is offensive at worst, dissonant at best. Cue the endless whines of “I don’t see race!” or, my overused favorite, “We’re not all like that!”

I obviously can’t speak for all white people (friendly reminder that nobody can speak for an entire race or group of people despite incessant urgings to the contrary), but in my experience, the reasoning behind the defensiveness exhibited by privileged people — in this case, myself — is caused by a feeling of isolation, alienation or polarization that occurs during controversial discussions regarding race, gender, etc, particularly discussions that indict the privileged class for their role in the perpetuation of inequality.

It’s at the moment of this experience of isolation, a feeling I would speculate is often an expression of dissonance (“But how can I be racist when I have black friends/voted for Obama/support the NAACP/like rap/etc?”), that most people stop listening. It’s an enormously uncomfortable feeling to sit with — to be accused of racism by one’s simple existence, by the accident of birth and genetic pigmentation, or accused of sexism by being comfortable with the male gender one was assigned at birth. Most white people and men choose not to continue that line of thinking.

It’s at that moment of discomfort, of polarization, that I believe privileged people can learn the most about oppression.

One of the most dangerous and insidious aspects of privilege, particularly white privilege, is that many who have it are unaware of its existence. The process of realizing one’s privilege — of recognizing simultaneously that your group is oppressive and, more importantly, that you are a member of the oppressive class — is difficult for those who have believed for their whole lives that they are purveyors of equality, or, at the very least, that they’re not racist/sexist/homophobic, etc. It’s a redefinition process that takes constant effort and is enormously difficult. But the fact remains that it is the discomfort and isolation of the privileged that stops them from recognizing and doing something about the oppression of others. I could lament all day about how difficult it has been for me to come to grips with my white privilege, but that struggle is nothing in comparison to the oppression faced by people of color.

That moment of discomfort and isolation is so essential to becoming a better ally and to becoming a better person, because it’s at that moment that, consciously or not, the privileged person recognizes that their whole entire life is based upon a system of inequality that is inescapable and wrong. It’s at that moment that the majority of “liberals” become turned off to race, gender, queer and disability theory. To look at oneself and claim that “I benefit from institutional racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and ability-discrimination” isn’t exactly a walk in the park.

And it’s at that moment that we must remind ourselves that as dissonant and uncomfortable and perhaps even painful as it might be to admit that we perpetuate oppression simply by existing, it’s a hell of a lot easier than actually being oppressed — and moreover, by denying that we are part and parcel of these systems, we are perpetuating them.

So to people who are offended or who become uncomfortable by the recognition of their privilege, I’ve got to tell you: Get the fuck over it.

Written by Noor Al-Sibai

  • lynnhballen

    worth reading/watching as add-ons to this: classic from Peggy McIntosh ‘White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack’ And
    How To Tell People They Sound Racist – Jay Smooth:

  • Julia

    Great article!

  • guest1

    Being thin is not a privilege; it’s a choice and well within peoples’ control.

    • Rhiannon Payne


    • Sully

      Thin privilege was something I found weird at first, too, since it sounded like saying that thin people were just born that way and were are guaranteed to be that way forever when obviously it’s possible to gain weight. But now I’ve realized thin privilege is not at all about the way people become or remain thin, it’s about the fact that thin people tend to be treated better. So it’s not saying that being thin is bad, just to be aware that society makes negative assumptions about overweight people and we need to be mindful not to make these assumptions without getting to know people.

      • Rhiannon Payne

        and people naturally come in all different shapes and sizes – there are many people who find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to lose or gain weight. and there are many different health reasons why a person might not be able to do so.

      • Oseberg

        I’m rail thin and have deep scars that cover half my face from being in a fire as a child. I guess other people have un-scarred-face privilege.

        • Kris

          That would be beauty privilege.

          • Drew

            Ever stop to think maybe the concept of privilege is going to far there? I can imagine you could envision “vegetarian privilege” vs “omnivore privilege”, “Honda privilege” vs “American Muscle Privilege”. I’m a fan of being humble but this is beginning to sound like classifying sections of psychology and brow beating people for it.

          • c684570

            Drew, that’s exactly what it’s all about. Brow beating normal people and making them feel guilty for being normal. It’s insane.

          • c684570

            Oh god. Beauty Privilege? Does this crap ever end?

    • Anna

      Being thin is not necessarily a choice. No matter how healthy I eat and no matter how in shape I am in, I will never be what is considered thin. I am just not built that way. I’m not slender, I’m thick. I will always be short, thick and kind of broad, no matter what. The only time I was ever seen as even remotely thin was when I went through a depression and wasn’t eating. I will never be seen as thin when I am healthy.

      • Martin Flynn

        No problem, but you can be FIT, and that is the much more important marker. BMI is essentially meaningless but a person’s body fat% and VO2Max are not. Make Health A Game.

    • Dawn Mckenna

      Develop a disability, put on several stone and see if you can still say that.

    • Josh

      Amen, hallelujah. ANYONE who counters you on this must provide references. We’ll have a science debate over this.

  • Anjasa

    I’ve had people get uncomfortable by saying that I have privilege as a white, young, thin, attractive, able bodied, woman in a straight relationship. They get very defensive for me, telling me that I don’t, as if I was saying that I had some fatal defect or a flaw.

    Privilege isn’t something negative, necessarily. It’s just something that exists, whether we admit to or not. It’s something that we should be aware of so that we can try to make this more equitable for others.

  • Fellow Traveler

    Oh beautiful Babylon, never again will you be known as the “Lady of Kingdoms”
    You said, “I am forever, the eternal queen!”
    But you did not think of these things, or reflect on what might happen.
    Now then listen, you lover of pleasure, lounging in your security
    and saying to yourself, “I am, and there is none besides me.”
    They come from the faraway lands — from the ends of the heavens –
    the Lord and the weapons of his wrath, to destroy the whole country.
    All the mixed people who are in the midst of her,
    like a hunted gazelle, like sheep without a shepherd,
    they will all return to their own people,
    they will flee to their native land.
    This is the plan determined for the whole world;
    this is the hand stretched out over all nations.
    Oh, how the praise of the whole earth is seized!
    How Babylon has become desolate among the nations!
    How the hammer of the whole earth has been cut apart and broken!
    How Babylon has become a desolation among the nations!
    For she has been proud against the LORD.
    And though Babylon should mount up to heaven,
    and fortify her skies, destroyers will come to her from me,
    declares the LORD.
    Let your astrologers come forward,
    those stargazers who make predictions month by month,
    let them save you from what is coming upon you.
    Oh you who dwell by many waters, abundant in treasures, your end has come.

    • Rhiannon Payne


      • Fellow Traveler

        You tell me, what country is described in those words. Anyone born into privilege should not boast, but should tremble in fear.

  • Sully

    This reminds me of this article I read recently about parents being mad that their children were being taught about white privilege in school ( I feel like people need to understand that just because they have privilege doesn’t automatically mean they’re bad people, it means they need to think more critically to see injustices that would be blatantly obvious to people who don’t have that privilege. And do something about it!

    • Andrew

      Perhaps classtime should be used to teach how to do your taxes or how to prepare for international travel. oy vey

  • Teah Abdullah

    This article=Yes, good.
    The photo accompanying this article-YES, GOOD!!

  • K2ydivad

    I don’t really see what this article is asking us to do.

    • Jasveen

      It’s asking you be aware of your privilege when speaking about an issue. Simple.

  • George Dundas

    Take your bleeding heart liberal crap and shove it where the sun doesn’t shine, I am a young white male and I refuse to accept blame for crimes I did not commit. I am not a rapist or a racist, because my priveleged parents taught me respect. I’m not fat because my priveleged parents taught me to work hard and eat right. And when I am confronted with injustice in this world I accept it for what it is, the fault and crime of those involved, not those who happen to share a skin color or gender with those involved, and then I try to do what is in my power to correct these injustices but I am only one man and can do only so much so why don’t you get off of your liberal high horse and help solve these problems instead of pointing fingers at people who’s only crime is to be good hard working citizens of mother earth.

    • Anna

      You really missed the point. No one said that you were to blame for the actions of others. But the reality is, as a white male you do have privilege. This article is about being aware, not taking blame. The fact is that sometime in your life you will most likely be given something when a woman or person of color or someone else was more deserving simply because you are white, male, young, or able. Maybe because or all those things. You are not to blame for that. That’s also not to say that being any of those things is the reason for everything. Being privileged doesn’t mean that you don’t earn things in your own right. The point is to be aware that you have it and how it affects other people.

      Its great that you do what’s in your power to correct injustices. However, if you are denying privilege, how many injustices go unnoticed by you? That is the point of this article.

      • Martin Flynn

        When one pays too much attention to the scorecard, they miss the game.
        And what shall we do about the injustices done by those who aren’t privileged?

    • Steve

      Good for you, my brother. I am in full agreement. These racist left wing fools can fuck off.

  • asdfg

    I reject the notion that “I benefit from institutional racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and ability-discrimination”.
    Racism, sexism, etc. isn’t a zero sum game; your loss is not my gain.

    I definitely appreciate the opportunities that I have from birth, and I think we should work towards a more equal society where everyone has that same opportunities.
    But the way privilege is often discussed makes it sound like the various -isms are part of some nefarious conspiracy of the privileged to oppress others for their benefit, when the truth is much more complex.

    • Safya

      The “your loss is not my gain” assertion is an interesting one. But, what about your gains? If your gain was the result of unfair discrimination against others, then it could be considered their loss as well.

  • Alex Reynard

    So, you should have no trouble at all accepting that women have the privilege of not knowing what it’s like to have to avert your eyes from children in public, for fear of being called a pedophile, right?

    • MarlenaRae

      lolwut. That is not a form of oppression.

      • Nteryii

        Actually, it kinda is. Put a group of children in a room alone with a woman and everyone’s fine. Do that same experiment with a man instead of a woman and everyone becomes wary. It’s just an extension of the ‘women can’t rape because they don’t have penises’ idea.

        As a woman, I’ve seen both those thought processes in action.

        • Erin O’Riordan

          It’s an extension of male privilege – women are automatically assumed to be nurturing caregivers, and men are assumed to be exempted from the responsibility of care for children.

          • Mario

            Everything in the whole wide world is an extension of male privilege…

    • nobody

      Only some women have that privilege. In a lot of places, women perceived to be queer, for example, have to worry about being called pedophiles all the time, even when they want to teach a class full of children.

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  • Whitmore

    This article has really helped me.

    I think what the author is trying to say is that as a white male who is also predominantly straight, I am not inherently racist, sexist, or homophobic, but rather I am inextricably embedded in and linked with communities that HAVE oppressed people in racist, sexist, or homophobic fashions. As uncomfortable as it is, I am part of the system of oppression. This system of oppression has aided me in life, and the best I can do is to recognise this, and try to oppose and reject this system in all possible circumstances.

    I think another main point of this article is to highlight that denying any claims privilege using the “We’re not all like that” defence diminishes the negative impacts that the communities I belong to have wrought upon other communities, and that rather it is morally, and probably intellectually, disingenuous to claim that privilege doesn’t affect me simply because I don’t want to be lumped in with a community of oppressors.

    • NA

      I love this response.

    • haleyyael

      Thanks for this. Just wrote a comment (thats currently pending approval) about this article missing a call to action. What you wrote really filled in that gap for me.

      • c684570

        Of the nearly 770,000 violent interracial crimes committed every year involving blacks and whites, blacks commit 85 percent and whites commit 15 percent.

        Blacks commit more violent crime against whites than against blacks.

        Forty-five percent of their victims are white, 43 percent are black, and 10 percent are Hispanic. When whites commit violent crime, only three percent of their victims are black.

        Blacks are an estimated 39 times more likely to commit a violent crime against a white than vice versa, and 136 times more likely to commit robbery.

        Blacks are 2.25 times more likely to commit officially-designated hate crimes against whites than vice versa.

        • Dawn Mckenna

          Ever consider the fact that there are a lot more white people than black people, ergo, it means it’s a lot more likely that any given victim of crime will be white just via numbers regardless of the perpetrator.

          Also generational poverty, ghettoisation and other issues impact the outcomes for PoC massively.

        • Jacinta

          Without references, I have no reason to believe your statistics, but I’ll pretend for a moment they’re legit. These numbers paint a dire story, but they are without context. Black people, in the USA are, and have always been, systematically oppressed. Due to the stress from racism, black women have more preterm births, so from the start black people are at risk of worse health outcomes. Add in that many black parents start with a low socioeconomic position and it’s obvious that most black children will have subpar education due to the tiering of schools in the USA.

          Regardless of skin color, it is consistently true that members of the most systematically oppressed peoples in any country will be over represented in that country’s crime statistics. While the crimes committed by people who are most systematically promoted are hard to be jailed for (fraud, embezzling, corporate irresponsibility).

          So, in essence, reducing racism and it’s deleterious affects will absolutely help in reducing violent crime.

          • NewMexicanJosh

            Where are your references?

        • Brian

          Did you ever take into account white collar crime? Your statistics are skewed by ignorance. You must be following the Uniformed Crime Report or, worse, self-report data. Look at the bigger picture where corporate and executive crime set the chains in motion for the continued oppression of the middle and lower class. Long live the 1%, huh? When the wealth inequality in this country is one of the worst in the world, it’s not surprising to see comments such as yours.

        • Sam

          Aren’t you forgetting that the justice system is effectively rigged to produce those kinds of statistics, and that there are there are probably thousands of whites who get off scot free for the same crimes as that blacks get 10 years for?

        • haleyyael

          I think c684570 is trying to troll us. Ignore them.

    • Alana

      Wonderful comment…as a person of color I deeply appreciate this article and your thoughtful perspective

    • c684570

      Then non-Whites are free to stay in their third world countries where they can avoid oppression. And pray for indoor plumbing.

      • Dawn Mckenna

        Except most of the people of color being oppressed were born in western countries and thus are citizens just like everyone else. We were the ones who conquered them in the case of the NA and other indigenous tribes, we also forcibly imported people’s ancestors as slaves. Those who are immigrating? They still deserve to be treated with respect and humanity, not oppressed. Your ancestors were probably once immigrants as well.

      • Seriously?

        You do realize that in many ‘white’ countries such as the U.S. or Australia the white colonials oppressed the ‘Non-white’ indigenous population, right? So what you’re really saying is that you should piss off of the Indigenous land back to whichever country your ancestors came from. So what you’re really, ACTUALLY, saying is “I’m a racist and think I deserve to be rich because I was lucky enough to be born white and in a developed nation”. Coz you didn’t earn that privilege on your own there, buddy.

    • Ernie

      Not me. I fight the man at every opportunity.

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  • haleyyael

    Great article, but I feel like it’s missing a call to action. Does this make sense? what Sully and Whitmore wrote here in the comments seems like that kind of call to action that this article is missing.

  • Netryii

    Mmm, yes. Because saying ‘get the fuck over it’ works in every situation, every time. Maybe the reason people get defensive is because you’re rude about a tough truth. It’s difficult enough for us privileged people to swallow the fact that we aren’t all that oppressed in comparison to other ethnic groups without you brutishly attempting to shove it down our throats with such a rude gesture.

    AKA, You had great points until you decided to be foul-mouthed and extremely rude about it. However, despite your extreme lack of finesse, I’ll take the earlier points to heart.

  • S. Davis

    I too took an intro level Sociology course. I know all these things are true on account of my professor said so. Yay critical thinking!

  • Steve

    I am privileged as a white person. I am privileged to belong to a magnificent heritage and cultural background. And I am proud of that. If you believe in the concept of “white privilege”, you are an anti-white racist. Period. And you will never intimidate me into guilt. Guilt for what, existing? Fuck you. Fuck off and eat my pride and my triumph and my brilliance.

    • Erin O’Riordan

      Being proud of your cultural background is fine. I love my Irish-Jewish background. That’s different from becoming defensive when confronted with the fact that institutions in your society favor certain people over others. You can recognize an injustice and refuse to take part in it without disrespecting your own heritage or anyone else’s.

      “Anti-white racist” isn’t a thing. Racial supremacy is based upon one group having power over another, and in the U.S., there is no cultural group more dominant than us white-skinned Eurasians.

  • Nancy

    I really don’t think saying “get the fuck over it” is the best way to approach the situation, or have people actually give you any credibility. “Get the fuck over it” really means you just don’t know what you are talking about. It’s a simple solution for a complex problem, lacking any compassion. I liked this article until a little after the fold, when the advice became symptomatic of the problem – focusing on pain and isolation rather than communion. The author starts comparing struggles and then discounting certain ones, like the one to come to terms with privilege. Rather than discounting it, it could be framed in a positive light. That journey is still a journey. And I’d like to commend anyone who willingly takes it. The “advice” is also spoken of in unclear, roundabout language. “If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” I don’t think the author understands well enough what advice she is really giving. My advice to her would be this: just be honest. It doesn’t all have to make sense, and everything is a process.

    Here’s the conclusion to this article I would have liked to see: After this bit, “It’s at the moment of this experience of isolation…that most people stop listening,” the most important thing to impart is the act of listening before responding. Listening to another person’s story, or cultivating empathy, allows both parties to be valued and respected. Rather than jumping to defensiveness, learn to find the heart and the honor in responding with integrity rather than reacting from ego. THAT is what is going to help us all understand each other better and help break down unnecessary barriers.

    • F. Payne

      I agree. I also had to re read the part where she used her love of rap music, and basic/more recent African American culture to justify why she could understand an entire struggle that is hundreds of thousands of years older than rap music. It was too vague, and leaves a lot of room for assumption. Saying “I understand what you go through because I listen to your main stream music which flaunts sexist views” is just as offensive to an entire group of people as to say “we are not all like that” – IF that is what was trying to be said because again, the opinions and points were all over the place. My advice would be to narrow down more to keep your goal in check for making the point you are trying to make. I should also note too that, if your (at this point I am speaking to the author) goal of this was to say listen before assuming, I think that it is essential to understand that it is still a persons right, or to some privilege, to say “I understand what you’re saying but I still disagree.” – that is understandably something that would anger people, but instead of saying “get the duck over it”, be more diplomatic, especially dealing with large groups of people on such a controversial subject. If you isolate yourself to the exact people you’re trying to get your point across to, you’re making no progress and also either A) giving the vibe that this is only for “I’m cool” points(which could be argued through your lack of clarification when using rap music as an example) which is an odd gesture to isolate another group with defensive strategy or B) you lose the attention of not only your target audience but also those of which you’re trying to gain support.

      • Camila

        I gave up at the rap music comment.

        • gullbert

          Actually, the rap music comment is pretty relevant. A lot of white people, when confronted with their privilege, cite the music they listen to as a means of explaining their way of out being implicated in racism. “Rap music” is used in the article in a list of “here’s why I can’t be racist” excuses, and it fits quite well there.

      • Jack

        Hundreds of thousands of years? C’mon Pal. There are only 2 hundreds of thousands of years available before you run out of Homo Sapiens to be talking about.

    • Frances Riley

      i agree completely. thank you for wording this in a way that i couldn’t.

    • Susan Rappenwolf

      This is what I thought confusing with the essay. Yes, she makes valid points. But she has really no suggestions of how to overcome the problems inherent in privilege. If you are going to point out a problem, either give a solution or invite others to offer them.

  • Mac F

    yes, those who enjoy privilege don’t have the same callous that the unprivileged must build up. it’s a childlike side to us, and it’s really sensitive to the smack of reality. on one hand, we should get the fuck over it… on the other hand, more of us actually LEARN when eased up to the lesson of our own privilege… same painful realization, less dreadful anticipation of it.

  • Janet Coburn

    Not long after we got married, my husband said he didn’t think he had any sort of male privilege. I asked him if his family had pressured him to change his name when we married; or if anyone had implied we were “shacking up” because he hadn’t; or if his new in-laws didn’t learn how to spell his name for two years. Because all that happened to me. He found it an eye-opener.

  • Terry Waltz

    So…if it’s not okay to say “not all men are rapists”, it’s not okay to say “not all young Black males are criminals” either, right?

  • SpecialKRJ

    This is still a daily struggle for me, but becoming aware of my own privilege and reminding myself constantly not to react defensively when called on it has made me (hopefully!) a better person.

  • Melinda Szot

    Perhaps it’s f*ckin’ scary to realize that systems of oppression function around privileges – which by nature are not guaranteed (like universal rights). Every parent knows this – privileges get taken away! A quick look at history will show any number of pale skinned minorities, slaughtered, enslaved or reduced to sub human at one point in time. Any individual at the various intersections of oppression knows that they can lose their so called privilege for all kinds of petty reasons beyond their control and they feel really terrifyingly helpless because people aren’t groups and individuals are powerless to do anything beyond their own personal conduct.

    In Barbados black slaves were privileged over white slaves, they were worth more, fed more and tended to live a little longer but nobody would claim that their privilege made them “oppressors”.

    It is not a privilege to live in a racist society. If I could trade the uncertainty of privilege for the guarantee of rights I would in a heart beat, but it’s not up to me (it’s not even up to my “group”). Much of this is driven not by the 1% but by the 0.001%. The people who have the power to shut down governments and cripple economies and make slaves of us all.

    The white savior “ally” is an illusion. More important than recognizing how you benefit from privilege is to recognize how you are disadvantaged by it. When you have a vested personal interest (when it’s your rights you are fighting for) then I will be able to think of you as an ally because if we all don’t have rights, then in reality, none of us do.

  • Mr. Cellophane

    This article makes some good points, but as has been mentioned, there’s a level of rudeness and insensitivity that I don’t think serves the author well.
    As a white male, I absolutely understand that I am part of the most over privileged group of people that there is, however coming to that realization is not easy, especially when you consider yourself to be a Liberal, a feminist, and in favour of equal rights for all.
    It’s easy to get beaten down by the idea that you are somehow oppressing people because of what skin tone, or genitals you were born with, even more so when you’re trying to be an ally, and continue to encounter this mindset.

    Basically what I’m trying to say, is that privileged people are people too. And telling someone to “get the fuck over it” is usually the least effective way to communicate anything.

  • OhioSteve

    Speaking as one of those straight white males who grew up with enough means to pursue pretty much whatever he wanted, I’m basically the definition of privilege. I’m very conscious of the fact that I basically started out life with a leg up on everyone. And yet, I do bristle at some of these discussions when they come up and here’s a few reasons why:

    1) Very often the people who bring this up don’t want to stop at “be aware of your privilege.” They want you to take personal responsibility for the oppression someone else felt, often in a situation where you would have supported the oppressed individual or group, not the oppressor. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do besides say, “Yeah, that was fucked up, I’m on your side.” I’m both grateful for how lucky I am and conscientious about trying to make sure I help people who don’t have my advantages. I get it, I honestly understand my privilege. This gets to point 2.

    2) “You just don’t get it…/You can never understand…” On one hand, sure, this is self-evident. Of course I’ll never understand racism or sexism the same way as someone who has been on the wrong side of it. All of my understanding is intellectual, not experiential. I’m not going to try to one-up you on that. And yet, why antagonize the people of privilege who actually care enough to acknowledge their privilege and take your side. One of the best things any person can do for another is to step outside their own experience and try to see the world from someone else’s perspective. This increases compassion and understanding. And yet, every time I have this conversation, I end up saying something along the lines of “I understand/I know…” and am told, “No you don’t, you could never know…” At a certain point, it’s worth treating the attempt at understanding as positive instead of seeking to discredit the attempt. It’s like you want me to be the villain so we can playact instead of just accepting that I’m an alright guy even if I’m lucky. Finally,

    3) Because I’m a white guy, nothing positive in my life is ever to my credit. If I get good grades, it’s not because I’m a smart guy or a studious person, it’s because I have a legacy of privilege. No professional accomplishment will ever be because I’m diligent, it’s all because I don’t have to deal with the glass ceiling, or racism, or whatever.

    Again, I get that I started with major advantages, systemic advantages that I could not have earned because they were in place from my birth. And yet, people don’t choose their lot in life, good or bad. People deserve credit or blame based on what they do from where they start. I don’t deserve to be treated as some sort of usurper because I took a good lot in life and turned it into a great outcome if I did so ethically. I mean, what else was I supposed to do?

    Apologies for how self-aggrandizing this will sound, but I’m a fundamentally good person. I see myself as someone who was blessed and someone who was a good steward of those blessings. I am actively trying to help others better their lives by making sure I spread around my blessings as generously as possible.

    One of my favorite concepts is that we should be the change we want to see in the world. It’s a call to action instead of a call to whine. I think I’m actively participating in making the world a better place by standing shoulder to shoulder with those who are fighting discrimination in all of its forms. In fact, when you think back on all of the protest movements that have ever been undertaken, they were almost universally an attempt by the oppressed to convince the privileged to change the status quo. If I really am a person of privilege, then I think it is all the more my responsibility to maximize my station in life and use it for the betterment of all. As a person who is earnestly trying to do that, I do get pissed off when someone comes along and basically says all of my good intentions and hard work are bullshit because I’m a white guy, as if that guaranteed my success and never earned anything.

    Long post, but that’s the heart of the frustration, that you just can’t win with some people because they are so convinced that you MUST be the bad guy because of your privilege. It’s not that White Straight Guys have it easier than Black Gay Girls in general, it has to be that I, OhioSteve, personally robbed someone (or many someones) of their chance at life.

    • Mr. Cellophane

      ^ What Steve said.

    • Chelsea

      This was much more well articulated than the article itself.

    • Kcocoa

      The issue is that very few want you to take blame. People battling inequality want the illusion that privilege does not really exist to be dissolved. The issue is that for some reason many (usually white) FEEL offended, guilty, etc. And that is no one else’s fault how you take the truth. If you feel offended and a twinge of guilt or repulsion it’s probably because the truth is working and you’re feeling the uncomfortableness of it. Feeling you are being blamed when in actuality you were only supposed to listen and receive truth. If it repulses you then there are probably still ignorances that you’re holding on to. You are probably still blinded to some degree if you think this is all about playing the blame game. This is about being erased invisible and unheard. Your feelings being shattered at the taste of bitter truth is quite small compared to those who live the reality of inequality.

      • Captain_Sakonna

        As a straight white female I’m fairly high up on the privilege scale, but the straight white males are higher than I, so let’s consider them. I can see very little point in trying to get my male friends and co-workers to admit that they are privileged. What are they supposed to do with that information, exactly? I think the lack of an obvious practical application for the “recognize your privilege” mantra is what leads people to interpret it as a blame game.

        If I’m standing near a window and someone else pointedly says, “Brr, there’s a draft,” it’s reasonable for me to interpret that as a request that I close the window. Similarly, if I confronted the men in my life with a demand that they acknowledge their privilege, it would come across as a demand that they change something. It would imply either 1) you personally are doing something wrong and ought to stop, or 2) you need to compensate me for your privilege in some way. Telling a good person about his privilege may be true, but it’s vacuous … unless you really do intend to cast blame.

        Rather than telling people “YOU are privileged,” thus focusing attention on them and thereby implying that they are doing something wrong, why not frame the issue as “There are bad people who are oppressing me, please use your greater societal power to help me fight them”? I think that would be far more effective.

        • Maria

          The problem with stating “there are bad people who are oppressing me…” is that it’s not just bad people. Simply by living every day without recognizing our privilege and actively working to support greater equity causes oppression. That is what people don’t want to acknowledge. It’s easy to palm off “oppressors” as people in white cloaks or gangs that beat up gay men, or the boss who sexually harasses the employee. These need to be addressed, yes, but it’s the living everyday with privilege and not making choices to help create greater equity–which is usually through policy change, at both the local and national level.

          • dupesdupes

            ah, I see, the old ‘you’re either with us or against us’ idea. smashing.

      • edtastic

        “Your feelings being shattered at the taste of bitter truth is quite small compared to those who live the reality of inequality.”

        That depends on whether or not the reality of inequality was came down to the stated chain of causation. A white person can reasonably challenge cause and effect even if it relates issues affecting other races. We shouldn’t use a claim of privilege defense to shut people up who disagree with some social theories. These ideas need to be debated openly and freely.

    • cerebral soldier

      So you have moments where you feel like you can’t win. So what? Yes people are mad and yes you represent everything that oppresses them on a regular basis. The bulk of your life is spent in environments that reinforce your privilege so it is difficult for me to feel sorry for you on the few occasions where it’s not.
      As for the notion that “everything you accomplish is due to your privilege” I find it really hard to believe that you encounter that assertion all that often.I’m sure you’re friends and family applaud your good grades. The education system assists your good grades. The predominantly white college institutions applaud your good grades. And the predominantly white higher end workforce will applaud your good grades. So how often do you really come up against the assertion that your individual accomplishments don’t matter? The whole point of this discussion is that we live in a society where you are Constantly validated.

      • c684570

        Then stay in your third world country. No one is forcing you to live in countries ruled by White people that have functioning infrastructure.

        • J.C.Raja

          Functioning infrastructures built by slaves and the appropriation of materials taken by force from other lands (it’s called colonialism). White privilege allows people to presume their functioning country’s (and the US, let’s face it, isn’t doing too these days) success is simply a matter of good governance rather than the exploitation of others.

          • Ernie

            If what you say actually were true, then the functioning infrastructure built by slaves in African countries should have enabled said countries to flourish by their own wealth after the colonists were kicked out (by force, usually). Instead, countries like Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo continue to wallow in corruption and disastrously poor governance in spite of the mineral and oil wealth that they possess. These governments exploit their own people to their own benefit while doing nothing for them.

            The difference between good governance and bad is made obvious in examples like these, where the wealth exists to haul a country out of poverty, but instead of a new Amsterdam, it’s the same squalour as before.

      • Finnegan

        Oh I see. So it’s better if he feels guilty and undeserving of his nice life? How does that help underprivileged people?

      • OhioSteve

        Appreciate the response but I think you missed my point. I’m not here to whine about how I get treated. If the worst thing that ever happens to me is that someone reminds me that I’m lucky, then I’m pretty lucky!

        This discussion is happening in the context of a response to an article titled “Privilege Discomfort: Why you need to get the fuck over it”. I’m here to represent the reasonable people of privilege who are being painted as having “Privilege Discomfort” simply for being privileged in the first place. I’m not saying it’s a major problem in the world today, but in the context of this post I think it’s clear that the source of “Privilege Discomfort” is not well understood. There are people who take your side on this issue who are being marginalized.

        All you are doing here is pointing out my privilege, something I openly acknowledged (heck, that’s why you know about it!). The point of *this* discussion was not just to talk about privilege, but to talk about how the privileged act and should act in the discussion about privilege, and also how to best engage “the privileged” in better understanding.

        In society at large, of course I don’t regularly bump into problems because of people shaming me for my privilege. As someone who takes these issues to heart I regularly participate in these sorts of discussions and in projects where the mission essentially is built on the idea of removing barriers to success. If every time I participate in this discussion people start rolling their eyes at the lucky white guy or telling me to “check my privilege!”, it doesn’t exactly encourage my continued participation if I’m already acting in good faith.

        Maybe you don’t care that OhioSteve feels marginalized, but if your goal is building a fairer, more equitable world than you should. Marginalizing your supporters and potential supporters is counter-productive to your goal. Privileged allies are an important part of breaking down the barriers to success in society. If we are going to have billionaires in this society, better that they be Bill Gates than the Koch brothers in terms of goals and temperament.

    • Steph

      There is nothing I could even try to add to that. Well said.

      • OhioSteve


    • Captain_Sakonna

      Can I add a number 4 to your list? I am very disturbed when the concept of privilege is used to shut down debate. There’s an idea that a privileged person can’t possibly have a valid opinion on any issue that affects a less privileged group, as if privilege absolutely guarantees that one bases his opinions on bias. Thus legitimate criticisms can be discounted simply because they happened to be uttered by a privileged person.

      • ehejka


      • OhioSteve

        I think that’s fair, and basically an extension of #2, the idea that if my experience is more direct than your experience than everything you say is worthless in comparison to my informed opinion.

        It’s hard to say this stuff without sounding whiny, so observers need to take me at my word that I’m ultimately not that upset about this, but it’s worth a reminder that privileged people are still people. Trying to use someone’s status as “privileged” to tear them down or shut them up is just as rhetorically bad as someone privileged discrediting someone from an oppressed group just for being from an oppressed group, though I completely understand why it doesn’t generate the same outrage.

        If the goal is for everyone to be equal, start treating everyone equally in your own interactions and you’re doing one of the best things you can do to further your stated cause.

    • Adam-antium

      And here I am, born on the other end of the spectrum into urban poverty from two minority immigrants. But, hey, guess what? I overcame the odds, made a success out of myself with a strict regard to a personal moral code while getting there. Having looked socioeconomic injustices straight in the eye for 26 years, I can assure you that you sir, OhioSteve, are not the problem. It is the folks who have a complete disregard for the well-being of their fellow man and those that refuse to acknowledge that resources are finite that this article and I take issue with.

      We could spend hours and pages of text delving in to the root of the issue, but at the end of the day, all it takes is a little generosity for all people in need around the world, regardless of race, what country you live in and belief system. One of my favorite Steven Colbert quotes puts it best against one of the most problematic sources of our socioeconomic discrepancies, specifically in regards to the notion that Capitalism and Judeo-Christian values being compatible: “If this is going to be a Christian nation that
      doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as
      selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to
      love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that
      we just don’t want to do it.”

      Long story short, keep on keeping on OhioSteve, because I’m fairly confident that you ‘get it’.

      • Marchear

        Heh, I am no Christian, but I study the Bible and I find it has many good things to say, as well as things I don’t agree with. Let me help you with a straight quote though. Luke 16:13 ;

        “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You
        cannot serve both God and money.”

      • OhioSteve

        Gosh, thanks! I’ll try to live up to that praise! Also, that is an awesome Colbert quote.

    • Marchear

      I agree with a lot of what you said, and I am glad to see that you are a person of such good will.

      I do think there are some things out there which we could definitely start looking at in other ways though. First the idea of saying you’ve had it easier/harder than whomever… Most people seem to be constantly battling their inner demons. If money and privilege is not lacking, there will always be something else. In the end, the oppression, if it doesn’t come from the outside, comes from the inside.

      Actually, even if the oppression comes from the outside, it eventually can transfer to within the person, this is called victimization. If you accept that you are the victim of someone’s oppression, if you end up seeing yourself as a victim, then you start oppressing yourself. I firmly believe the eastern idea that heaven and hell do exist, and that they are not some mystical place you go to when you die, but rather they are what you live in your everyday, they are in the way that you live your life, the way you perceive it.

      Indeed, I have found it to be true for myself that the words “be the change you want to see in the world” should be taken to heart if you wish not only to see that change to happen, but also if you wish to find happiness. If you stop judging others, you start seeing so many things… you start understanding that every being has their difficulties, their weaknesses, and that the most efficient way to help them, to help the world is not to react in anger and hatred towards those who offend your principles, but rather with compassion.

      I do not think it is possible for a person who is truly happy to choose deliberately to do harm unto someone. Our instinctive way to deal with our negative feelings is to project them unto others. If you take part in this, you are only feeding the wheel, re-enforcing the system with more feedback. If you break the cycle and start understanding why the oppressors act the way they do, you can help them to perceive the reasons for their actions, the truth about their misery, and eventually you can propose to them a move towards positive change.

      But the first and most important step, of course, always starts within ourselves. Every day, I can see the things within me that I might reproach to someone else. Most people have surely heard the saying “First cast out the beam from thine eye; then you shall see clearly to cast out the mote from thy brother’s eye”. As such, I work hard, every day, to come to peace with myself, to cast out my own beam, and to be understanding towards others when I see a mote in their eye, because there’s so many things I don’t know about them, how could I judge them! I just try to propose a more peaceful way of doing things.

      I find this brings me much greater peace, faith in humanity, and I can humbly say that it shows very positively in the way people perceive me. There are people who compliment me, who claim that I shine light on my surroundings, who call me inspiring… but I am no better than anyone. I simply do the best I can with the tools I have, and I have been very fortunate in my lifetime. I am no one special, and I believe every human being has this potential, if they are given equal opportunities.

      There are no heroes, there are no monsters. We are all heroes, we are all monsters…

    • Marchear

      By the way OhioSteve, I feel you might be very interested in reading up on eastern philosophy, on Buddhism more specifically, if you haven’t already delved into the subject.

      Also, my previous comment isn’t directly targeted towards you, it’s rather there for anyone who finds it interesting. As you can notice, a lot of what I said simply overlaps your ideas, but expressed in a different way.

      • OhioSteve

        I appreciate the post. Very thoughtful reply. While I’m not deep into Eastern philosophy, I think there are some great principles there; probably deserves more study from me sometime. Lately I’m trying to get better at focusing on those things I can change and forgetting about those I can’t as it does me no good to stress about things that are outside my control. Would you say that is an idea that has roots in Eastern thought? Seems compatible.

    • Rajesh

      This comment was better than the article. Thank you.

      • OhioSteve

        That’s nice of you to say. FWIW, I give the OP credit because it’s much harder to generate an original idea and turn it into a good blog post than it is to snipe back from the comment section. Even when I disagree, I appreciate well-meaning people who put something new into the world. The marketplace of ideas only works if there’s a new idea in the market.

    • delusionsofgrandeur

      Show of hands – who else would really love to hang out in a coffehouse some fine evening with AdamAntium and OhioSteve? (*hand*)

      • OhioSteve

        Wow, that’s pretty nice of you. If you ever get up to Ohio give me a shout.

    • robin

      feel sorry for me privilege is worse then any white privilege that is what blacks have did you ever try and discuss a situation in school or on a school bus or anywhere about a situation a black causes trouble with youre child and you get told look where there came from blaa blaa feel sorry for me privilege youre child feels the situation was not taken care of and the black child feels I got away with it then smiles well whites should be tired of this and stop joining in

  • guest

    Speaking as someone who ticks every privilege I want to say its not the message its how it’s delivered.

    We are privileged but some more than others. You find the men who complain have reasons to (valid or not) often involving the loss of their children or false accusations.

    All delivering the message aggressively gets is applause from people who already agree and anger who don’t feel the privilege due to personal circumstances. It may vent anger but it doesn’t help communicate or help with empathy.

  • SandraKolb

    Most people I know KNOW they have some privilege.
    The issue is when they state their opinion or ideas, and they are answered back with a “check your privilege”.
    This statement works if your purpose is to tell the person the equivalent of F U.
    This statement is meant to shut up the person or end discussion. It is not educating the person about factors they may not understand or be aware of because of their privilege. And this statement leads to more argument, not understanding.
    If you want to have the person understand something they may be missing, tell them what you think they are missing.

  • Rachel
  • Johnathan Knight

    You wrote, “Why do people become so defensive when confronted with the possibility of their own prejudice?”

    First, someone disagreeing with you doesn’t mean they’re defensive. It means they disagree with you. They’re not necessarily uncomfortable, or bored, or blind, or anything else.

    You’re not having a conversation on this topic. In fact, in my small opinion, this topic rarely reaches the level of an actual conversation; instead, it tends to be folks like you, certain of your own moral superiority, *lecturing* the rest of the world. Rather than listening to your opposition, you’re waiting to talk.

    I could ask you: why are you so defensive when confronted with the possibility that you might be wrong about this?

    From my perspective, you’re brainwashed into this absurd line of thinking. Notice the way your article takes this “white privilege” for granted. You make zero effort to back up your argument with anything demonstrable or substantive. Instead, you take your conclusion for granted and shove it everyone’s face.

    The idea that someone is perpetuating racism by existing and breathing and being white, regardless of how they act or the content of their character, well, it’s laughable. At first.

    But on deeper reflection, it’s scary. Scary, because you’re the racist in this scenario, but you’ve managed to structure your argument in such a way as to delude yourself into thinking you’re the good person. Already, we can find spots of segregation at certain conventions, where “safe places” are arranged for “people of color”.

    Your arguments simply fail on individual levels. You know nothing about my life or my struggles, but you pretend to based on the cover art of my existence. If you want to make an argument suggesting that some folks have a rough time in society due to this or that cause, fine. But don’t have the audacity to make that argument via this lopsided approach, by outright accusing an entire race of perpetuating something evil.

    Basically, in my small opinion, you’re side of the fence is doggedly pursuing a very divisive agenda. And I’m happy that some people have the courage to stand up to this.

    Folks claim, through one side of their mouth, that this isn’t about blame, while yapping about how white people can’t help but be racist through the other. This is like saying: it’s not your fault that you’re a thief, just that you’re always stealing because you’re you, and you can’t help it. Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, you’re insulting and rude and most definitely pointing a finger.

    Every day, the term “racist” loses a little more power. Because of this kind of stuff. It’s like the Boy Who Cried Wolf. No one will believe it when it’s actually happening because they’ll assume it’s more of this nonsense.

  • Gravy

    Acknowledging that one’s personal experiences shape one’s perspective on things: fine. The foundation of good manners. Being aware that other people can be worse off than you for myriad reasons, often in ways that aren’t immediately obvious, and taking that into account when considering their opinions and actions: good. Common sense.

    The problem I have is with the lazy, passive aggressive use of ‘check your privilege’ as a way to close down discussion. In its use online I see people being shouted down and basically told they’re awful, ignorant people purely because their opinion disagrees with that of their accuser, and their accuser can claim to be the more oppressed party. It’s a dreadful, divisive slogan, and one that I can’t imagine does much to further the causes of social harmony and equality.

    TL;DR : Maybe that person who disagrees with you has already checked their privilege, and still thinks you’re wrong. It doesn’t necessarily make them an asshole.

  • Johnathan Knight

    You wrote, “Why do people become so defensive when confronted with the possibility of their own prejudice?”

    First, someone disagreeing with you doesn’t mean they’re defensive. It means they disagree with you. They’re not necessarily uncomfortable, or bored, or blind, or anything else.

    You’re not having a conversation on this topic. In fact, in my small opinion, this topic rarely reaches the level of an actual conversation; instead, it tends to be folks like you, certain of your own moral superiority, *lecturing* the rest of the world. Rather than listening to your opposition, you’re waiting to talk.

    I could ask you: why are you so defensive when confronted with the possibility that you might be wrong about this?

    From my perspective, you’re brainwashed into this absurd line of thinking. Notice the way your article takes this “white privilege” for granted. You make zero effort to back up your argument with anything demonstrable or substantive. Instead, you take your conclusion for granted and shove it everyone’s face.

    The idea that someone is perpetuating racism by existing and breathing and being white, regardless of how they act or the content of their character, well, it’s laughable. At first.

    But on deeper reflection, it’s scary. Scary, because you’re the racist in this scenario, but you’ve managed to structure your argument in such a way as to delude yourself into thinking you’re the good person. Already, we can find spots of segregation at certain conventions, where “safe places” are arranged for “people of color”.

    Your arguments simply fail on individual levels. You know nothing about my life or my struggles, but you pretend to based on the cover art of my existence. If you want to make an argument suggesting that some folks have a rough time in society due to this or that cause, fine. But don’t have the audacity to make that argument via this lopsided approach, by outright accusing an entire race of perpetuating something evil.

    Basically, in my small opinion, you’re side of the fence is doggedly pursuing a very divisive agenda. And I’m happy that some people have the courage to stand up to this.

    Folks claim, through one side of their mouth, that this isn’t about blame, while yapping about how white people can’t help but be racist through the other. This is like saying: it’s not your fault that you’re a thief, just that you’re always stealing because you’re you, and you can’t help it. Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, you’re insulting and rude and most definitely pointing a finger.

    Every day, the term “racist” loses a little more power. Because of this kind of stuff. It’s like the Boy Who Cried Wolf. No one will believe it when it’s actually happening because they’ll assume it’s more of this nonsense.

    • JessicaSideways

      Actually, it is your side of the fence is that is about divisiveness, because you refuse to acknowledge your privilege.

  • Erin O’Riordan

    Not to, in any way, imply that the writer of this article needs my approval, but there’s a lot of truth here. White people raised in the United States are racist, not because we choose racism but because the belief in white supremacy is the dominant line of thought in U.S. culture. If I take a gummy bear and drop it in a bottle of vodka, the gummy bear becomes saturated with alcohol. In the same way, if I raise a white person in the U.S., the white person becomes saturated in white privilege. The important thing for us is to recognize we’ve been saturated with racist poison, because if we can’t even acknowledge institutional and cultural racism, we can’t contribute to any kind of solution. No one ever solves a problem she won’t even acknowledge.

  • Erin O’Riordan

    The thing is, privileged people have no inherent right to say to people who lack the same privileges, “You can voice your opinion to me, but only in polite, soothing tones.” That line of thinking seems to imply that some people (the privileged) have more freedom of speech than others (those who lack the same privileges). That’s a dangerous slippery slope. Let’s just take gender as an example. If a male Congressman says, “I’ll listen to arguments in favor of women’s reproductive rights, but only if I like the tone of the woman’s voice,” well, that automatically belittles and limits any woman who may want to speak. Maybe one of the women is really angry, and maybe she has a good reason to be. Her anger has already been invalidated, no matter how righteous it might be. That’s not an equitable way for fellow citizens to treat one another.

    • cooker

      Privileged people absolutely have the right to ask people to speak to them politely. Everyone does! And everyone has the right to decide whether or not to honour that request.

      Freedom of speech does not, emphatically, mean people have to listen to you. Really, all it means is you express yourself without fear that the government will arrest you for what you’re saying. That’s about it. Nothing about freedom of speech has anything to do with people paying attention to you, or believing you, or not criticizing you. Freedom of speech is not freedom from response.

      I think robinemma meant that the author’s point would be more effective if she wasn’t trying to be shocking about it. Obviously the author has every right to voice her opinion in whatever manner she sees fit, but the audience has no obligation to listen. But they might listen a little closer if she didn’t tell them to “get the fuck over it.”

  • grmpf

    “The process of realizing one’s privilege [...] is difficult for those who have believed for their whole lives [...] that they’re not racist/sexist/homophobic, etc.”

    I thought I had interpreted the overall assertion of this article in a way that seems sensible to me: If I’m privileged, e.g. because I’m white, I benefit from the respective privileged group’s promotion of, e.g., institutional racism. However, the odd thing the author seems to do at the point quoted above is add a step that makes it valid to make a contracted statement like “I am automatically racist because I am white”. Isn’t that something different still from “I benefit from racism”? Do I become racist by not rejecting those benefits?

  • KiKi

    People become defensive regardless of how the topic is presented- that’s the point of the article. We are getting tired of coddling the unaware and egocentric. It is not someone else’s duty to hand hold another into consciousness raising; it is the duty of any decent person to seek that themselves. Decent people seek truth, growth and compassion- they do not sit around waiting for someone else to take their hand, lead them to the goal, all while talking sweet. Such comments come from a place of privilege.

  • Alana

    As a person of color and a person of privilege I deeply appreciate what the author is calling us to do…it makes me feel hopeful that people are critically and reflectively thinking about this very important issue. As a person of color I do not get a choice in whether or not I have to deal with oppression it’s always there. As a person of privilege, the choice is mine as to whether or not I think about my privilege – that’s the major difference. My position of privilege gives me choice = freedom. My position of less privilege limits my choices = oppression. This is a complex issue, at the same time once you have more choices available to you than another group, then you are the one with more power. With more power you have more influence. When I’m aware of my power I can use it to influence change. That’s what I got from this…

  • Knave Murdok

    A friend of a friend had a really poignant pondering on this matter. I wish i could quote him directly, because his wording was really great, but the gist of it was:

    “Allies always have the option of walking away, we do not. As soon as allies start acting like they don’t have that option either, then we can finally start working from the same page.”

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  • Tom

    Really unconvincing article. There is no one attribute that privileges a person irrespective.

    I’m white, you don’t know that I have been privileged by that unless you know my life story. I’m black, are you telling me there is nobody for whom that has been advantageous?

    What it breaks down to is that depending on the context some attributes can advantage us and some disadvantage – and what may be an advantage for situation A may be a disadvantage for situation B. It really does depend on time and place and what you want to achieve whether something gives you privilege or not.

  • Meghan

    What is the call to action? I don’t really love this article at all.

  • Ariel Boschet

    There’s a problem with assuming all white people should recognize their privilege, not all white people grow up in a good way, yet all white people are supposed to “feel” their privilege. Granted, I am native american and white, but it doesn’t matter because all anyone sees is the white. I didn’t come from a financially privileged family, I grew up in a two bedroom apartment with six people, I’ve had anxiety my whole life and school was very difficult for me as I was not able to converse or look at people, but because I am mostly white, I was constantly ganged up on for being “racist” even though I’d try to explain my situation and that it wasn’t just black people I had a hard time being around, it was ALL people. Even when I managed to make a few friends, I quickly decided it was too difficult because they wanted me to feel bad about being white. I was very poor, often didn’t know where my next meal was coming from or if it would come, I wore the same few clothes from the time I was 12 til I was 17, I was failing school and friendless and still I was “privileged” and should have done something more for people of color. I am now a “privileged” white person, living in the better part of town with a large home plenty of money and I do recognize my privilege, but as a child, there was no one in my school less privileged than I was and the schools were predominantly black, but I was assumed to be a spoiled privileged white girl and made miserable until I dropped out of school, so I honestly don’t think spreading the idea that ALL white people are privileged even as children, is a good thing, I can’t make a black person feel better about being black, no matter how hard I try, but they want me to feel bad for being white and that’s not ok either. So I will recognize my privilege, but I will not kiss the colored populations feet to make up for it.

  • Anonymous

    The problem with articles like this is the assumption that all white people have white privilege, when in a lot of cases they don’t. For example, I am a guy with a completely white heritage, however due to my skin tone, hair texture and other features I don’t look like your typical white man. Upon meeting me, most people eventually wind up asking “So what are you?” in reference to my ethnicity. I am often mistaken for being mixed race white/black, latino or arab or persian.

    Now since white privilege exists almost solely as a function of how you are perceived by the people around you, I therefore cannot have white privilege because I am often not perceived as white, despite the fact that I am white.

    So articles like this irritate me because they assume a great deal about my life simply based on a label that happens to apply to me (whiteness). There is no room for someone like me to participate in these discussions because since I am technically not a person of color I am not “oppressed” and since I don’t look white I’m not “privileged” either.

  • Pabst

    Just a couple thoughts;
    1. As has been said in the comments, the article lacks a solution to the problem. It points out that pretty much all of society is wrong, because everyone is privileged, yet provides no way to fix the issue. I believe this is because the issue is so large, and good or bad, such a deep, long-running situation, the answer is not simple, maybe not even simple enough to put into words.
    2. The author talks about how being interested in stereotypical attributes of black culture, and keeping a couple token black friends around, makes them not racist. Isn’t appreciating a culture for only it’s most stereotypical things pretty damn racist?
    3. “We’re not all like that” Why isn’t this a fair argument? If you have 10 people in a room, and one is a rapist, how is it unfair for the other nine to state that they are not rapists? Just because you share skin colour, or a job, or an orientation with hundreds, maybe thousands of others, does not make you responsible for what they choose to do.
    4. The really sticky bit for me is this; The idea of Privilege, as it’s presented currently, seems to imply that the only course of action is pull society to it’s knees and arbitrarily decide how it’s supposed to be run. If no one has any “privilege”, does that extend to fashion, housing, food, ideals? If I’m into superhero comics, but someone else only reads philosophy, does that mean one of us has to give up our interests? And who decides what is right for everyone in this bland gravy of “un-privileged” society?
    I realise I’m probably coming across as a total “privilged” cis-scum dickwad, but I cannot understand the argument here. I want to. I feel it’s something important, but it’s such an offensive, exclusive, vague message that I can’t help but feel it’s ‘someone else’s problem’. And that’s a big part of the problem, right?

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  • Ross McNeilage

    Hi. I swapped the word ‘privileged’ for ‘religious’ and ‘oppressed’ for ‘atheist’ and it nearly made grammatic sense as well. keep up the good work Noor. Always be questioning the status quo, it is the disruptive person who moves society forward.

  • Ayoola M. White

    I think there’s another dimension to this issue. The definition of racism that most people understand or have been taught has to do with hating people of other races or believing your race to be superior to others. While these are definitely dimensions of racism, they really don’t get at the institutional aspects of the oppression that go beyond interpersonal prejudices and are much more insidious and deeply rooted. I think more needs to be done to teach people a more comprehensive definition of racism and other forms of oppression.

  • J

    We’re not all like that.

  • J.C.Raja

    Pabst’s comment: “”If you have 10 people in a room, and one is a rapist, how is it unfair for the other nine to state that they are not rapists?” makes the point he’s arguing against (or she). Rape culture allows the insidious “but what was she doing there/wearing/she chose to go out with him” thinking that even the most liberated woman can find herself thinking – which is exactly the author’s point. We are all so enmeshed in ideology it takes a huge effort to notice the s.o.p. and narrative of the dominant culture that enjoys enormous benefits without realizing such are underwritten by the exclusion of others, and the ‘othering’ of others.

  • Noel Aubrey

    “It’s an enormously uncomfortable feeling to sit with — to be accused [...] of sexism by being comfortable with the male gender one was assigned at birth.”

    Can we please not insinuate that one has to be assigned male at birth to BE male, and therefore have male privilege? Trans men exist.

    • Mr. Cellophane

      And are looked upon by a patriarchal society as “not really men” or worse. Yes, they have male privilege. So long as they don’t tell anyone that they’re Trans. Not much of a privilege, really.

  • Rita D. Lipshutz

    well said. i get this all the time, and even more so now that i am public about my commitment to anti-racist organizing. most of the white people i know will go through every kind of mental gymnastic rather than just relax, stop being so defensive and admit to what anybody with eyes to see has got to know on some level. they usually, when i won’t just drop it and “go along to get along” resort to calling me mean, rigid, a bully, etc. it just happened the other night with a ‘friend’ who thinks it is right to give a pass to a racist teabagger freak because alot of us know him and grew up with him. she thought the right thing to do is “just let it roll off.” when i reminded her that we are white so we might have that luxury but people of color do not she called me “insulting and controlling” and blocked me on FB before i could respond.

  • Chrissy Powers

    I do not deny some are more privileged than others and people are oppressed more than others but I know from my own personal oppression/privileges we all have our own shit we deal with that sucks no matter who you are or what you are or think or feel, because we are all human, I also know blame and playing victim just takes away more power so really no matter who you are or what you are the best thing we can all do is feel deal heal and get the fuck over it.

  • Ernie

    “But the fact remains that it is the discomfort and isolation of the
    privileged that stops them from recognizing and doing something about
    the oppression of others.”

    “Get the fuck over it.”

    This is what we’re supposed to do about the oppression of other people? Interesting. And I thought we were supposed to stand up and fight The Man.

  • Polar1zed .

    I’m a white, straight male so I’m automatically racist, privileged and a rapist? Give me a fucking break. I’ve had to work very hard for my poverty, my country marginalizes me because of the part of it which i come from, my province marginalizes me because of the part of THAT which I come from, and I’m excluded from scholarships, extracurricular-activities and jobs because of my skin-colour and gender. Yeah, I’m so privileged. Great to know that I’m being labeled by people who don’t even know me because I’m clearly ever-so privileged based on my skin-colour, gender and sexual orientation. You’re writing this blog on a computer which you presumably own, in what is most likely your house or apartment on an internet service that you can afford to pay for. You’re already more privileged than most of the planet! So how about you get the fuck over it and stop labeling people based on your own bullshit ideologies which you can’t even explain. Any fucking idiot can throw around words like “privileged” but you can’t even establish your own argument save for one (probably) bullshit example about two dipshits arguing over a trivial example of a broad topic in a class somewhere.

  • Eric

    Sounds like the one who needs to get over the discomfort is you. The tone of your entire article is seething with self-loathing and discomfort.

  • hue

    So…. white people are all bad and no matter what amount of evidence to show that they really are not, if they’re probably racist, then it’s possible and they should be treated as an oppressive enemy? Perhaps I lack the English to understand this article, but this is what I understood? Am I right?

  • Annie

    I’m a straight white single mom who’s raised a child on her own. I feel incredibly privileged because to have food to eat, shelter, and peace is a privilege. I feel lucky. That said may I respectfully state that the tone of this article, based on my experiences of the evangelical churches that wanted to save me as a kid (I’m Jewish) reeks of self-righteousness. That’s what people are objecting to when you talk to them. The self-righteousness.

  • woohoo

    I’m white, male, straight, cisgendered, thin, able-bodied, and dont want for shelter or food. feelsgoodman

  • dazebras

    Personally, I’m not a fan of the term “queers” in reference to members of the LGBTQ+ community. It’s rather offensive.

  • Finnegan

    What do you mean “get the fuck over it” ? As a white person, am I simply not allowed to feel as though I’m doing my best given the circumstances? Must we all forever live our lives, playing out the roles of oppressor and victim?

  • Timothy Miller

    I didn’t vote for Obama, I hate rap and most black culture, and I have very few black friends. Since I am white and straight, this must mean that deep, deep down inside of me…I am racist…has to, just has to. I also must secretly hate women and internally jump for joy every-time a young poor liberal is beaten down in a protest. I love it when other people attempt to dictate MY character (as well as everyone else of that same sex and skin color) by using “the majority of people in their experience” and ascribing to me the mistakes, and attitudes of others who just happen to share my skin color and genital placement. Bullshit. In fact…that is a form, subtle as it may be, of racism/sexism. This article basically lumps all white, straight males together by attempting to accuse them of shared bias’s simply because of their race and sex. This line of thinking is both toxic and counter progressive. The bottom line…if someone is racist or sexist, that is their choice to be as such and if you think that simply reading an article, or watching a march/protest is going to change the heart of an individual who has grown up entrenched in that way of thinking, than you are as ignorant as you are delusional. Accept the fact that many, many people exist, all over the world, who embrace this type of thinking and get the fuck over it. You want to really make a difference? Train your children, the next generation, to love each-other and to take joy in diversity. Teach them to respect other people regardless of skin color, genital placement, and your definition of privileged peoples. And stop trying to place the blame on a single groups shoulders…this is a huge problem, with many many aspects and angles, that we are all guilty of in some small way.

  • Speusippus

    Just a note. I’m a college professor. I do not find it a sign of “disrespect” when a student challenges a claim I made in the classroom using facts and reasoning. If this is “disrespect” then clearly I’ve been doing it wrong.

  • Det

    “we perpetuate oppression simply by existing,” your article could also be titled, “don’t give a F****, because it’s still your fault.”

  • beurbs

    It’s always rough when you write a long article and don’t cite any facts. Not saying you’re wrong, just saying it’s an uphill battle and the burden of proof is always on anyone that comes out making a claim. “So to people who are offended or who become uncomfortable by the recognition of their privilege, I’ve got to tell you: Get the fuck over it.” – it is exactly the same to say to this author: “so you don’t like people taking offense when you tell them about things they don’t like about themselves – get the fuck over it”. I doubt any white straight male in real life is totally unaware that their status helps them out… this whole thing is about “privilege discomfort”. prove that privileged people don’t know that they’re privileged, prove that privileged people get offended when you tell them they’re privileged. “it is the discomfort and isolation of the privileged that stops them from recognizing and doing something about the oppression of others” – prove it… I thought that discomfort with white privilege was the main reason any white person gets involved in progressive racial issues! if you use your education and knowledge of modern sociological buzzwords just to inflame emotions without making any concrete statements about reality or providing any data, you’re no different from Fox News

  • beenwiser

    “the privileged person['s]… whole entire life is based upon a system of inequality”?
    PARTS of a person’s life are based IN PART on systemS of inequality PLURAL.

    “we perpetuate oppression simply by existing”?
    We perpetuate oppression by simply existing, but we can do more than simply exist.

    Does Noor hold these ideas to be true, or is Noor pointing out misunderstandings that might arise when a person is introduced to the concept of privilege? I hope the latter. If we tell people their ENTIRE life is based a system of inequality, at that point we are taking a deterministic view of the world and denying the existence of free will. Thats no way to convince someone to CHOOSE to live differently. If we tell people that they perpetuate oppression simply by existing, they will rightly infer we are asking them to stop existing. Thats not really an invitation they are likely to take us up on either.

  • Jasmin Elisabeth Wanner

    Hm, if by simply existing we perpetuate oppression, I’m not sure what we as individuals can actually be expected to do besides shutting our mouth permanently and being good little doormats. The whole social justice trend seems actually intended to drive people into the defensive, in order to enable others to take the moral high ground. It’s become so convoluted and undermined with hypocrisy that I easily understand why it’s being viewed as irrelevant or boring, as you say.

  • edtastic

    Maybe because I’m not a white and I know these social justice ideas like “privilege” started with getting whites to behave themselves around non whites. Today we see young whites using it to place a moralistic chip on their shoulder. It’s the same sort of in-group out-group, thinking that brought us ideas like racial segregation and white supremacy.

    Why would I make this leap?

    Well it’s simple. Notice that we have gone back to the business of defining people by the group they are in? Yes that would be the problem equality was trying to solve. Instead we see a bunch of naive younger whites using these identity games to appear morally superior to the next white person. Lord knows you don’t want to be a white man who doesn’t recognize his privilege!

    The thing is what we is a all white social justice game that focuses most resources on those things which concern the white people involved. Priority is not set by need. It’s merely a matter of whether or not someone FEELS they aren’t getting what they wanted. That person 9 times out of 10 is going to be a well educated white women.

    This is what’s wrong with the games being played by the bourgeoisie conscious left. It uses posturing over things like ‘privilege’ to ignore actual injustice in our society of a substantive nature like mass incarceration, or poverty.

    The motive behind privilege talk is providing cover for those with it and those who wish to exploit the perception of it. It is not about actually helping people. That would require a conversation about the real problems they face instead of position papers detailing how we have to think about gender and sexuality which realistically are personal matters individuals can work out themselves. The real politics we ought be concerned with have been for too long drowned out by OVER PRIVILEGED navel gazers looking for a theory of everything that at the same time makes them oh so very special.

    We should define privilege by education, income, wealth, and other stuff that actually MATTERS in the capitalist battle for social status! We’ve instead allowed the bourgeois to define themselves as a victim class regardless of what they have. Of course they get to talk over weaker marginal folks like the 46 million Americans living in poverty, or the 2.7 million people in our prisons, or all those without healthcare. Actually focusing on the needs of those outside the cliche whose approval you seek leads to very different subjects being discussed. Talk of Ryan Gossiling certainly isn’t elevating the underclass.

    This self serving game of hipster morality has driven social justice so far of track it’s going to take a generation to get right. This kind of male feminists man is more concerned with fitting into a group think than treating people as equals. He cares more about his image and reputation than the plight of the real underclass.

    Other than that male feminists don’t effectively fight for boys. That would run afoul of the their masters wishes. Telling boys they are privileged doesn’t keep them out of prison, or from committing suicide, or from dropping out of school at far higher rates than girls. You know what else doesn’t work? Nor does blaming patriarchy for their problems which is really just an excuse for feminists to ignore them.

  • NeoLotus

    I think the retort to “but not everyone is like that” should be, “by saying that, you admit it happens.”

  • Connor

    So full disclosure, I am a heterosexual, white, American, male. And as the author guesses, I do take a lot of objection to her article, though not for her reasons. First, any argument against the idea of privilege is instantly dismissed, saying that person just couldn’t understand, or is rejecting privilege because it makes them uncomfortable, and that is just wrong, there are logical and well thought out arguments against the idea of privilege and I will endeavor to give one now.
    Most arguments for privilege rely on the idea that society is a perfect hierarchy with white people holding all advantages over minorities, men holding all advantages over women, heterosexuals holding all advantages above homosexuals etc. when in reality our culture is not anywhere near this black and white. Yes, there are numerous instances where a white person has an advantage over a minority, but there are also many places where a minority has an advantage over a white person, the difference is that when a white person is given an advantage it is called privilege, and when a racial minority holds an advantage it is attributed to a goal of equality. Any person who has applied to a university in the last 20 years will have come into direct contact with a VERY significant instance where white people are placed at a HUGE disadvantage. the same is true for the sexes, yes there are some places where women still find themselves at a disadvantage, but talk to nearly any man who has gotten into a custody battle over his kids and you will see a heartbreaking instance of women being placed at an unfair advantage. The fact of the matter is that every person has various advantages in life and various disadvantage, but the solution is not to demonize one group.
    I now have two final small and less important points, First: I think its ridiculous that as a man it is unacceptable for me to be proud of being a man, yet women are constantly encouraged to be proud of their sex, I am proud to be a man, not because I think its better than being a woman, but just because I’m proud to be a man. Second, I am a historian by profession, and in the comments section here, from all sides, there is such an abuse of historical events. Please stop citing history if you are not 100% sure you know what you are talking about.
    With all of this I am not trying to make anyone angry, or start any fires, but if you are going to make the rather bold claim that someone else needs to open their mind, it is only fair someone tell you to open yours.

  • Lia Walsh

    Excellent article! Thanks for sharing!

  • OhioSteve

    1) I agree.

    2) I agree.

    3) I agree…mostly. We’re def. not a full on meritocracy, but we do live in an amazing country where for all its faults, most people hold the power to improve their own lives. And I think “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” is basically right. We’re not there, but we’re getting better.

    We’re on the same team. Have a good day Duff.

  • Andy Teal

    Reasonable points. Two things:

    First, the pointlessly aggressive profanity in the title goes a long way towards undermining your purpose. Are you interested in making people think or looking like a badass? Sure, I get that you wanted to challenge people, but that’s the wrong place for the challenge – it just makes people take you less seriously.

    Second, the fact that you imply “men” or “thin people” or any other category can be viewed as a unified entity makes me think that your understanding of this enormously complex situation may be a tad reductive. Seriously, it doesn’t strike you as possible hypocrisy that the article contains both the sentences “I’m talking about white people, men, straight people, cisgender people, thin people, able-bodied people…” and “nobody can speak for an entire race or group of people”?

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  • Better Off Damned

    I think a lot of people’s discomfort has to do with the discourse. In discussions of these matters it’s not enough to acknowledge one’s privilege, and the perpetration of oppression via having said privilege, and proceed from there. As opposed to just an unquestionable matter of fact, privilege is often ascribed in an accusatory manner. The nuance between being a de facto player in a transgressive system and in being a direct transgressor of oppression is not easily grasped by those newly exposed to the concept. And I think much of the discourse is hostile to those who are still unfamiliar with these concepts, and as such is counterproductive to its cause. Countless times I have seen privilege explained to someone in a vilifying manner. Is it really surprising their instinct is dissonant rejection of it? Before people can be expected to “get the fuck over” their discomfort over their privilege they first need to comprehend it.