Privilege

Element Descriptor

One goldfish to another: How’s the water? Other goldfish: What’s water? Which is to say, if you have privilege, it can be particularly hard to see. But see it you must, if you want to be effective in what you do, and someone others will want to ally with

Level descriptors

NovicePractitionerExpertNinja
You are able to see relatively obvious examples of how privilege “works” – how it is reproduced, invisibilized, defended, and support overt efforts to challenge it. You are able to situate yourself within the systems of privilege, seeing where and when you do or do not have the ability to challenge the systemsYou are able to see both obvious and subtle forms of privilege-maintenance, and explain the ways these unfold to skeptical or even hostile-to-the-idea-of-structural-disadvantage individuals and groups, with a grasp on the statistics which suggest the existence and structures which perpetuate it. You are able to throw the occasional bit of sand into the engines of oppression.You are able to see and explain subtle forms of privilege maintenance, and the ways it properly gets inside of everybody’s head (a bit of Fanon, Bourdieu, Gramsci, Morgan etc might not go amiss here). You are able to design and facilitate meetings and workshops that actively expose/undercut these systems, making the causes, consequences and possible remedies easier for all to see.Yeah, look if you think you’re a ninja privilege-spotter, you have clearly misunderstood how difficult this is and how the last thing anyone needs is a saviour who thinks they are All That. You ain’t. Grow up and stop trying to be the centre of everything, ffs.

Element Overview Essay

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This is similar to understanding power within social movements but for all of society:  once you start to see it, one of the natural human responses for people who have a certain amount of power is to look away because they don’t want to think of themselves as bad people. Hear the short one person play The Fever by Wallace Shawn would be extremely helpful, I think. 

We look away, because we don’t want to see ourselves as complicit or in any ways, beneficiaries of systems that are frankly destroying the planet and with a habitable biosphere on which human civilization relies on the planet will keep orbiting the sun for a while yet. 

The consequences of not seeing privilege is that you piss off a lot of people who DO see privilege. When you get defensive when they try and explain this to you and call you out, then that pisses them off more and you lose their energy and potential. help with your cause. And they lose your energy and potential help with their cause and all rich white people in the big house are perfectly happy with that. And you will demoralise people and you will enrage people. And that’s really sucky. 

So what is to be done? As per understanding power within social movement organisations, it’s a question of exposing yourself to texts which are challenging and to other voices, which you will initially find extremely uncomfortable. And then it’s a process of not centering your feelings either with them or with yourself. 

And, as Donna Haraway says, “staying with the trouble.” Obviously this is best done with determination with persistence and with some other people. Because you’ll want to look away, you know, human beings can only bear so much truth etc.

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