jennifer hanigan

a pinch of this and a dollop of that

How I (Finally) Figured out Privilege

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I have questionable parentage, was decidedly in the lower-income subset in school, married and divorced young, raised my kids in a slum on generally less than a thousand dollars a month (including food stamps, when we had them), and have struggled almost all my life.  So you might find it understandable that when I started hearing about ‘white privilege’, I was a bit confused.  I didn’t feel privileged.  In fact, I felt pretty darn beaten down!  And to make it even more confusing, my kids experienced a lot of racial discrimination (organized, even) from certain neighbors because they were non-Latino white.  That didn’t feel like privilege, either.

But that’s thing about privilege.  When you have it, it’s just about always invisible.  It’s a bit like thinking your childhood was ‘normal’–you wouldn’t see it any other way, since it was your normal.  And people who talk a lot about privilege tend to use unfamiliar language to do so, making it harder to grasp.  But I finally stumbled upon a method that worked for me, and might work for you, too.

If you’ve been balking at the idea of privilege, but want to understand, keep reading.  If you would prefer to believe it’s a notion made up by liberal college professors to make white men feel guilty and excuse criminals for their actions, then don’t bother, but do yourself a favor and keep your mouth shut about it.  This will help you avoid unfavorable comparisons to His Putziness Mr. Trump.

If you read my blog (new as it is), you may have figured out that I’m a fat woman, and not only fat, but unapologetic about it.  I refuse to hate myself for being fat, just like I don’t hate myself for being short, or freckled, or for failing to catch the red-haired gene from my mom’s side of the family.  This is all intertwined with my Health At Every Size practice, which is in turn intertwined (but not the same thing as!) the Fat Acceptance or Size Acceptance movement.  Like most members of counter-cultural movements these days, I do a lot of reading online of things other members have written.  And this is how I stumbled upon This Is Thin Privilege.  TITP is a blog made up of reader-submitted posts by people who have experienced the flip side of Thin Privilege.  What is that flip side?  Discrimination against fat people. Because (lesson time!) anytime you find a privilege, you have also found discrimination. 

As I read through dozens and dozens of these posts, light began to dawn.  This is my life.  I have spent almost my entire adulthood, and much of my childhood, discriminated against.  I had seen glimmers here and there but not really the big picture, because again, my experience was my ‘normal’.  Thin privilege is a thing, and it is a thing that I do not have.  I don’t have the privilege of knowing my grocery cart is my own business and not up for random comment by strangers.  I don’t have the privilege of being assumed to be healthy and energetic and capable and able to take care of myself.  If you are a thin person, you might be feeling a little defensive right now, and you might be thinking, “But it’s not my fault!” and you’re right.  Your privilege is not your fault, it’s not even your doing, because these things are not earned.  They’re just the consequence of our screwed-up societal structure and values.

Anyway.  As I began to understand thin privilege, and my lack thereof, I also began to apply these concepts to male privilege.  Things like my male boss telling me to be more forceful in my speech and giving me examples of what to say.  “That works for you,” I’d answer, “but if I used those exact same words, I’d immediately be labeled a bitch and dismissed.”  Because the fact is, women are not viewed the same way men are viewed in our society.  And that difference is male privilege.

So, here I am, a fat, white woman.  Discriminated against for being fat and female, but privileged for being white.  And that’s another thing about privilege:  You can have it here but not there, and you can have it in varying amounts (for instance, a size 12 woman may get some thin privilege in some circumstances but not others–the grocery store versus Hollywood, for instance).  You can simultaneously suffer from one and benefit from another.  But learning about those privileges I do not have has opened my eyes to those that I do, and my ears to the people who don’t.

So my method is this:  Find a way in which you are not privileged (are you a woman?  Fat?  Gay? Disabled?  Poor?) and explore how that privilege affects you and others.  Then apply that to privileges you do have, and most importantly, listen intently and compassionately to those who don’t have them.  And if you’re a straight, white, reasonably wealthy, relatively thin male?  Well, it’s going to be a lot harder for you.   It’s going to take more intention and tongue-biting and hard thinking and listening, but I still bet you can do it, if you want.  And if not, perhaps you should run for President in 2020.

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