Monthly Archives: July 2015

Invisible Privilege

My theory is that, for those of us living with privilege, that privilege is often invisible until it is pointed out to us.

I say this because, when I have heard people – and these are generally some combination of cisgendered/heterosexual/white people – balk about how privilege is not a thing, it generally seems to be because they equate privilege with a lack of hard work or struggle. They think that, because they have also struggled, that they are not privileged.

I know where my privileges lie. I’m white, can pass as straight because I am attracted to men as well as women (as well as those in between), and most of the time there’s no question that I’m female. I was assigned female at birth and aside from some rare occasions, I’m comfortable with that. Lately, I’ve even been playing up my femininity by wearing more dresses, putting effort into my hair, and wearing makeup.  I’m not poor. If I lost my job, I have a decent savings to fall back on for a little while as well as an incredible support network.

That doesn’t I haven’t struggled or worked hard for what I have. I absolutely have. Nothing has been given to me that I didn’t earn. Being privileged doesn’t mean life is easy.

It means we don’t notice that it could be harder.

Because I have friends who are people of color – including several who I consider Family – I am aware that I will never have to worry about being followed around a department store. No one assumes I’m there to steal anything. I don’t worry about getting stopped for a traffic violation. At worst, I’m out a little money that I had expected to spend on something else. What I don’t worry about is harassment, assault, false accusations, or being killed in custody.

Last week, a friend who happens to be a woman of color, got stopped for speeding. Later that day, she posted this on Facebook – “Got stopped by the police. Still alive.” My heart broke for her because this is never, ever anything that should be noteworthy.

I recently made chocolate favors for a member of my best friend’s family who was getting married. One of the things I made was a 3-D wedding cake, complete with tiny cake topper of a bride and groom. My friend’s family is black, and I texted her sister to check if the woman marrying in was as well. She isn’t. Which meant I had to figure out how to paint the tiny faces on these figures to reflect the bride and groom’s different complexions.

I felt like I had been smacked in the face with my own privilege. If it had been a white couple, I wouldn’t have bothered at all. It would have been simple. Suddenly, I had to consider the options of how to make this topper so it was accurate. And I’m not trying to say this was a hardship in any way. Like at all. I was simply aware that the skills needed would be different. The few times I’ve made this piece, I haven’t had to think about it at all.

Because I know several trans* people, I’m aware that I have never had to worry about using public bathrooms. It has never occurred to me that someone might think I was in the wrong place when I go to a women’s restroom. Even at my most butch, it’s pretty obvious (hello boobs!) that I’m female. Similarly, I don’t worry about public dressing or changing rooms. Again, no one is going to question whether I’m in the “right” place or trying on the “right” clothes.

This is privilege. It is often invisible, covert, and subtle. If it is not brought to our attention, it would just as often go unnoticed.

For all these reasons, I consider the diversity in my friends group to be invaluable. Knowing the people I do has helped me empathize and given me perspectives I never would have known otherwise. Without them, I’d be going around thinking that everyone is like me, and assuming that everyone has the same opportunities and is treated similarly. Much as I hate these differences, I am grateful that I am more aware than I used to be, and that I can help bring awareness to others.

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The First Amendment and You

More and more lately, I’m seeing people defend racist, homophobic, or otherwise unwelcome comments online by claiming it is their constitutional right to do so. When people dare to fight back, call it out, or simply defend themselves, the answer is a consistent, “Whatever happened to the First Amendment?”

At this point, I feel like I need to explain a couple of things about the First Amendment.

One – This is important. The First Amendment only keeps the government from limiting one’s speech. Specifically, it says, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.” Internet forums, their moderators, people protesting your business, and people’s social media pages are not the government. Moderators get to make their own rules, and individuals are allowed to control what they see in their media feeds. A private person asking you to take your speech elsewhere is not, I repeat, not the government. This argument is particularly funny on the website Fetlife – it’s a Canadian website.

Two – This is largely connected to the first point but I feel like it needs to be made clear. If YOU have the freedom to say what you want to on the internet, SO DOES EVERYONE ELSE. You don’t get to claim protection by the First Amendment while simultaneously attempting to limit how others respond to you. The First Amendment does not prevent the rest of us from talking back. Nor does it protect you from the consequences of your speech. If, for example, you’re a firefighter who uses a public forum to discuss your misguided views on homosexuals (i.e., they are all pedophiles), other people are absolutely allowed (and will) make counter arguments. If such speech is against the rules of your job, you don’t get to hide behind the Constitution to keep from getting fired.

Maybe you’re a business owner and don’t want to serve gay customers. Because reasons. Those people protesting and/or picketing you? They have the same freedom of speech you do. They get to tell their friends about you the same as your supporters get to tell their friends. I don’t care if you’re Chik Fil-A or a bakery that only employs two people. You don’t get to tell people how to react to your policies.

Three – and this has less to do with the First Amendment and more to do with a personal pet peeve of mine. Being disagreed with on the internet is NOT the same as being attacked or bullied. The internet may be for porn, but it is also for people to debate and discuss their views. Sometimes they do this vehemently and heatedly. Sometimes it will absolutely cross a line and become an attack. But guess what – they still have the right to say it. And you still have the right to walk away and ignore it.

Let’s learn to pick our battles people. Let’s stop claiming we are persecuted just because someone calls us names or disagrees with us online. Let’s be open to others’ viewpoints rather than instantly getting defensive just because our narrow views of what is acceptable or not are being challenged. Pro tip – if a person of color or person who falls under the LGBT umbrella says something is offensive, listen to them. Find out why. Take a minute to see their perspective instead of dismissing it. Let’s afford everyone the same rights we claim for ourselves.

We’re better than this. We have to be better than this.

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