Sunday, January 20, 2013

Privilege and grace, part I

***This post is for the benefit of the privileged; Not for the oppressed. At least, for educational purposes. So, if you need to call me out, please feel free to do so. I'm not asking to be educated; if I got something wrong, this is just my promise to you that I will check my own privilege, to take it seriously, and to work hard dealing with my shit. Thank you for reading.***

Over at Rachel Held Evan's blog, Rachel recently asked some tough questions about how to dialogue with Others in a respectful way; whether or not the privileged should be afforded grace by the Other and where and when anger is appropriate. She also asked about education: is it okay to ask a question in good faith?

She put her heart out, like she so often does, with her post.

And it isn't any surprise Rachel is the one who brought it up, in good faith. She is a woman of valor. Christian culture, from the creepy, apparently pro-assault writing to the creepy pro-perp bias (in the name of Grace) is just scary sometimes (let alone inclusive in any kind of meaningful way).

I hear there is also a dialogue in the Christian blogosphere about privilege and whether the P word needs to go. Actually, there have been several conversations about call out culture lately.

This has gotten me thinking about privilege and how messed up it is. And find a grace filled way through the mire.

Godde is big. Big enough to create a vast panorama of diversity in the world of "nature". So, why not in humankind as well? We can do better with this as a community. We have to...

Since this is written by a Christian blogger, I will get to privilege from a Xian perspective; For, well, cis white Christians who want to get more intersectional with their feminism. And for those who want my special snowflake perspective on grace in this context. But, we probably need to define some terms here.

This isn't easy stuff and this blog isn't the right place to get a comprehensive grasp of these things, so google all you can later and find out more. Read first hand accounts. Heck, read everything. And observe. But, not in a creepy way...

I'm cis, white, middle just know this post is only the tip of the ice burg. it lays out some things social justice bloggers write about and refer to outside the Christian blogosphere. And, when you google, you'll get access to much better, first hand information. Ok, here we go.

Privileges are unearned advantages given to members of a group. Usually, they go unnoticed by those that possess them. Certain "unalienable" rights aren't. Some people get to exercise them, while others can't or are punished by society for exercising them. Hint: google the invisible knapsack.

For instance, a straight couple can walk down the street holding hands. Without even thinking twice. A gay couple holding hands down the street may be harassed or threatened.

Or, other people will readily acknowledge a cis woman's gender identity (be called she, addressed by the right name).

Or when a person who doesn't identify as a woman or man, after repeatedly telling others they prefer the pronoun ze, goes ignored. Cis people call zr "him" anyway. Or, cis strangers ask zr really personal questions no one should ever have to answer, let alone in the first interaction.

In these cases, respect, safety, and privacy are "privileges" held by some and withheld from others.

Patriarchy is "rule by the fathers". Men (cis men) are the generic human beings and everyone else is derivative. When you see a congress full of old white guys domineering legislation about women's rights, that's patriarchy.

Kyriarchy is similar, but much more expansive. This term was coined by catholic feminist liberation theologian Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza. It's concerns social structures as the Great Chain of Being. It's all about authority: who rules. It follows first from God to white cis men to white cis women, to cis PoC, down and down and down. Since gender variant folk are largely invisible, they're generally pretty low on the chain, especially if they are people of color. (More on intersectionality later).

The binary is, well, a two system, system. One is either/or. Male or female. Man or woman.

People of color is the word chosen by non white people to refer to themselves. So, my advice? Respect the term.

Just because a person of color has reclaimed a word historically used to dehumanize them, doesn't give white people a right to use the word. If the slur or epithet isn't yours, if you've never been on the receiving end, either historically or in your personal experience, it isn't yours to use. Please respect that.

Gender variant people are those who don't fit in the binary (m/f-man/woman) system. Same thing with terms, here. If it's not yours, don't use it.

There are endless kinds of human difference under the word gender variance. Some people are bigender (identify with two genders), genderqueer (don't identify as man or woman withiin the binary), genderfluid (move easily between genders), agender (don't identify with a gender). Trans* people cross over genders, often these are the folks who are assigned as female or male at birth but who don't identify with the sex (or gender) they were assigned. Sometimes the stereotype of a woman being born "in a man's body" holds true for some (see amazing writer Julia Serano). Others will say that if they feel like women in their "man's" body, it makes it a woman's body ultimately. If they feel this way, it is true for them.
Some trans* individuals choose gender affirmation surgery so they feel right in their bodies, though not everyone wants or needs this. There is no right or wrong way to be trans*.

Sometimes, genitalia and secondary sex characteristics are referred to as sex assigned at birth. Or, sex coercively assigned at birth. Sex is something you can't tell from looking at someone.

It also isn't possible to tell someone's gender identity from looking at them.

If you can, ask which pronouns an individual prefers others to use in reference to them. This is a polite way of showing respect without the oppressive "are you a girl or a boy?" conversation. Never, ever, ever ask invasive questions about someone else's body or orientation. Don't ask anything more than the person in front of you wants to share. Unless they make it clear they want to educate you.

Always respect pronouns. To you, Bo may "look" like a "man." If Bo tells you otherwise, believe them. And respect them by respecting their privacy, desires, wishes, and requests concerning their gender identity. So, if they come out as gender variant, make sure they're out to everyone before you say anything to anyone else.

Sexual orientation is one's sexual and romantic orientation to others: who do I love; who do I want to have sex with. Sexual orientation, also, is not determined by gender identity. There are lesbians, gay men, bisexuals (who are attracted to both genders in the binary gendrr system), pansexuals are those who are attracted to all genders. Demisexuals are those who only become sexually attracted to others after forming close relationships.

Asexuals are those who don't want to have sex or who have "lower than ususal" sex drives. Some experience sexual arousal, but don't want partnered sex. Some have sex, but infrequently. These people aren't unicorns. And asexuality is as natural and normal as any other kind of orientation. For some reason, it seems asexuals get a lot of crap for their orientation. From other oppressed groups. And it's like...what?

Just be aware, just because you want sex twice a day, doesn't mean everyone does. If someone confides they are asexual, don't shame them.

White supremacy is the implicit or explicit belief that white people and white culture are inherently better than PoC and various other cultures. A great example of this is when a white person acts like hip-hop is the worst thing ever.

Racism is a system in which prejudice and discrimination are practiced by an entire society.

Heterosexism is the system in which when the dominant group is straight; the implicit or explicit assumption that heterosexuality is better, more normal, natural, ideal, or right than other kinds of sexual orientation.

Ableism is the system in which a society adopts the assumption that some bodies are better, or more normal, ideal, or natural than other bodies. For instance, when someone who can walk without assistance is considered more whole than someone who uses mobility aids. Ableism also covers the stigma around "mental health issues". Or, neurally atypical people. Though things like depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia can cause distress for people, what makes them "disabilities" is the fear and loathing of those with these "disorders". With ableism, need becomes pathological or wrong, and in the system needing help is seen as weakness. Also, those with mental health impairments or differences aren't violent as a rule!!!

An impairment is a difficulty. Like, depression or chronic pain. Or, being a wheelchair user, like moi!

A disability is what happens when schools, businesses, and other institutions won't accommodate impairment. Or, when impairment is raised to an ontological category, a state of being, that makes an individual less-than the non-impaired. Disability is a social category. Also, if we're lucky enough to age, we all become disabled. Sometimes disability rights activists call "able bodied" people, "temporarily able bodied people" to point out that everyone has or will have "special needs" and that this fact of life shouldn't be stigmatized

Classism is the social system in which people who are poor or are underprivileged are considered worse people than those from "higher" classes." Poor people are lazy/don't want to work/deserve what they get in life" are examples of this attitude.

Being cis is having one's sex assigned at birth and gender "match up".

Intersex people are those who are born with characteristics of the two traditionally accepted sexes. It isn't talked about often, but more people are intersex than the general public believe.

Cissexism is cis supremacy, the societal belief that being cis is better or more right or normal or "natural" than being gender variant.

In sociology, the accepted rule is power + prejudice = _____. Pick a system.

A black individual can have prejudices against white people as a group, but since black people have less institutional power, as a group, than white people, they cannot be racists. It's a sociological truth.

Prejudice =/= discrimination.

There is no such thing as reverse racism. The worst thing a PoC can do to a white person is usually to call then names or mock them. Even in cases of murder, all black people are accused: not individuals. And certainly not the system.

White people have a legacy of killing, marginalizing, and unfairly imprisoning PoC. For instance, while white and black people are equally likely to use drugs, black people are something like twice more likely to be imprisoned (see the New Jim Crow for more info.). Or, in other words, white judges and juries are more likely to convict PoC than whites, and to hand down heavier sentences.

Also, when white people kill people, they are never asked to represent the white race. It was just one "whack job" (ableism alert here) who snapped. How many times does a white person have to snap for us, as a culture, to see a pattern? It has taken us a long, long, loooong time. Like, 400 years?

The same principle applies to sexism, heterosexism, ableism, classism, cissexism, and racism.

There is no reverse anything. The quickest way to shut down dialogue with social justice advocates is to insist your problems are equal with others systematic oppression. For instance, it doesn't work (because it's so flagrantly intellectually dishonest) to insist that

I took a blogging break.

I think because a lot of what I have written in the past came from a place of deep insecurity. I'm no less insecure in some ways, but at the same time, there have been changes in me. It's time to unsheath the pen again.