27 November, 2011

if this doesn't make sense to you I'm way jealous

(First: I want to say that I might look at this in two days and think all of it is totally wrong.)

As someone who has always found "tumblr social justice" to be at least semi-useful 100% of the time, and funny when it's not very useful, I'm finding myself getting a bit worn out by the idea of privilege.

I actually don't mean this the way people mean it when they criticize the idea of privilege or say it is too widely applied. (Rest your chops and write me an email, please.)

I think what's kind of bothering me is this enshrining of privilege--what's bothering me is actually the idea of criticizing people because they consider something to be an oppressed group/privileged group dichotomy that you don't think is serious.

Yes, it can get very silly.

But it just bothers me when people start drawing a line in the sand about what silliness is. And I totally get if people read this and think I'm ridiculous. But I feel like if some person has felt really erased or somehow less-than, or like she has less of a future, because of some fact about herself, and then she's like, "Wow, this is how it works! This is why I felt like that--this was what was supposed to be the difference between me and other people!" that's, like, really cool. It's pretty cool to start seeing a system or pattern in something that previously just sucked.

Now, going to the doctor and having the doctor assume you are having sex, when in fact you're asexual--for example--is not like having someone follow you down the street and threaten you because they think you are having sex with someone of the same sex. It's not as important or urgent an issue.

But I also think it sucks and is a real problem and I'm happy for any person who is able to think and talk about why it's a problem, and I'm hopeful for the work that person will do--because I think the world will be better when different kinds of people are accepted as real, valuable, and natural.

One of the most frequently mocked aspects of "tumblr social justice," especially the teenage kind, is the way "oppressed identities" are treated like these buttons you can collect. I'm not saying I don't smile a little bit when I see some kid on their tumblr describing themselves as "Queer! Bisexual! Manic! Depressed! Bipolar! Crazy!"--apparently using as many synonyms as possible to make their list of identities longer--but I also feel excited about the buttonlike aspect, because I find it cool that instead of being like, "well my bipolar isn't that severe, and I've never been fired from a job because they knew about my diagnosis, and I'm not a psych survivor, and mental illness isn't a real disability...so I'll just crawl back under this rock," this person can just be like, "cool! I'm in!" and start looking at the world from that perspective for a while, and maybe start to understand some of the things that have happened to them as being part of a constellation of things that happen to mentally ill people.

The way people treat stigmatized identities and the people who carry them is pretty miserable. I think buttony tumblr culture makes this something that people can kind of start thinking about--maybe kind of lazily and shallowly, but shit, they should be thinking about it. And the majority of people have some kind of stigmatized identity that they can think about.

The idea that discussion of "oppression" has to be really hardcore, and that marginalization/abuse/stigma/fear has to be at a certain level before that group of people can be officially considered oppressed, just seems really...well, I get and agree with where it's coming from, but I ultimately feel it makes this stuff WAY less accessible. Because feeling like privilege is this heavy thing that you can't possibly understand doesn't make people interested or passionate.

But privilege is a really deep and consistent part of our world, and I think it's easy to start to understand it.


  1. "before that group of people can be officially considered oppressed"

    The idea that:
    -you CAN be officially oppressed
    -that it's someone's job to decide who is and is not oppressed (by whatever standard they define it)

    is totally silly.

    I could do without an oppression police. There's always going to be someone who thinks your problems aren't bad enough.

  2. By the way, using "chops" is regards to blogging is slightly (just slightly) ridiculous. I know I didn't tell you before, but I couldn't bring myself to discourage you.

    Also, upon reflection I need to apologize for my last comment. I realize that in the context of tumblr social justice being officially oppressed is very important, because without the designation one would not have the right to make lists and humorous image macros detailing what's wrong with the world.

  3. I wasn't using it in regard to blogging Pancho, it was a reference to YOU needing to email me.

  4. You used it in regards to not commenting on blogs, which basically amounts to the same thing.

    Anyway I was trying respond to what you were actually talking about, which is hopefully still acceptable comment material. I do agree with you here more than I don't.

  5. No I didn't!

    A while ago you were expressing some doubts about the usefulness of the concept of privilege, which is one of the things that caused me to write this post. Therefore, while writing the post, I thought of you, and how I would like to hear from you. The chops I am referring to are your mouth and fingers and brain, tired from brasscapades and hopefully taking refuge in an email addressed to me.

    Your comment material is always acceptable unless it starts being about solfege, then you're banned.

  6. Oh okay.

    Unfortunately for you I've started working on a blog post and will have to focus my attentions on that. Remember, this is what you wanted.

    Anyway, if the concept of privilege is useful then it's useful as one way of seeing how certain things are patterns and it's better to prove the same thing different ways if you can. So I don't think it's a worthless concept even though I have some problems with how it's used.

    Also, I like solfege.

  7. I know, but it makes me want to die. I hope that isn't what your blog post is about.

  8. See, I think making oppression into whatever anyone wants it to be makes a lot of things really and dangerously inaccessible.

  9. All my future blog posts are going to be about solfege. I am working on a post about the Solresol, to be followed by a series on the Guidonian Hand. As of my last post it is officially a solfege blog.

  10. I'm inclined to agree with you here but I think I'm (we're?) coming from a fundamentally different concept of what the idea is/is for than a lot of the people getting upset. In the way I tend to parse it, privilege isn't a concept about oppression as much as it is one about marginalization, and the relationship between marginalization and oppression is kind of like the relationship between rectangles and squares. A square is a very specific and extremely important kind of rectangle, but not all rectangles are squares. The problem happens when people talking in rectangles and people talking in squares start trying to talk to each other. The square people get upset because they thought they were walking into a square discussion and there's not an equilateral side to be found and then they get angry at the rectangle people who get upset because they feel that they're being told that their rectangles aren't actually rectangular and the whole thing rapidly devolves into a huge tangled mess.

    Certainly, there are some people out there calling 'oppression' when they probably shouldn't be, but I think a lot of people making the sorts of privilege posts that people are taking exception to are just rectangle people who don't necessarily realize that some people are expecting only squares. The car-privilege person, for example-it seemed to me to very clear at all points that they weren't trying to say that non-drivers are oppressed on the basis of their not driving - just that society treats driving as the default condition and that those who do enjoy various artificial advantages over those who don't. And I think putting stuff like that out there about lesser marginalizations can be a really useful thing that makes the more important ones accessible.

    The kind of person who looks at civil rights laws, women's rights laws, the ADA, etc. and thinks it means that inequality is over... sometimes the best way to show them that the playing field isn't as even as they think is to first show them the tiny ways in which things are biased against THEM. Not all marginalizations are created equal, and even the big oppressions aren't entirely interchangeable, but if relating their own experiences with racism or ace-erasure or misogyny or WASP-y anti-Catholic sentiments or whatever else helps someone understand the stuff I'm dealing with a bit better, then I think that's a good thing.

  11. @ Amanda: This, this post is exactly how I feel about this issue.
    Thank you.
    I really think that every step is important and that everyone deserves to see their experience and/or identity validated.

    @bondlesseye: seems a very interesting point, you are probably right, I tended to also confuse marginalisation and oppression, but this distinction could probably help a lot, recognizing all the forms of marginalization while still stressing the difference when it's truly oppression...