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On Privilege, Racism, and Oppression

Posted on Wednesday, June 2, 2010 in Theories

Let’s talk privilege. So, I’m a middle class white female-bodied genderqueer mentally ill Jew. I’d be the first to admit I have some privilege but I am also fairly oppressed by the system as well. There are people who hate me because of my heritage. There are people who hate me for being queer. There are people who won’t view me as an equal if they knew about my mental illness. I wasn’t born into money. My family was lower class and worked really, really hard so that their kids would never know what it’s like to go without food. My class status is a result of hardwork, not old or blood money. So, because my family wanted a better life for me than they had, somehow my privilege state is somehow my fault that I need to take responsibility for. I am being told by peers that it’s somehow my fault I am white and middle class. I never asked for this life. I just happened to be born into it.

However, for everyone person like me who admits their privileges – there’s a thousand people who don’t. I was talking to my friend about being privilege. My friend mentioned when she got home from work she turned on the television and “Desperate Housewives” was on. She watched the opening scene and one of the characters stated, “I am privilege and I don’t care.” That sentiment is a majority of people in my position. Yet, I do care and I am trying to use what I got to better the world – not just my own personal interests.

I keep being told I don’t understand racism but no one can explain to me how I don’t get it. I might not have to deal with racism but I do have to deal with the threat that people will hate me for my last name or being visibly queer. How is that any different? Yet, somehow, I am told by anti-racist racists that my experience as a human being isn’t valid because of the color of my skin. Just because I was born into a white meat suit, my whole life and experiences don’t matter. To classify a group of people, due to their skin color, and to automatically decide that people of a certain race experiences aren’t as valid as another race experience, is no different than what Hitler did by blaming the Jews.

Racism is always going to be a problem and I know class/race is related. That most people in prison are people of color and there’s racial profiling. But, if there were more people of color than whites, the situation would be reverse. If there were more queers than heterosexuals, the heterosexuals would be oppressed. It’s just dumb luck that things are the way they are.

Now, I have been told I’m not being a good enough white ally because of my lack of understanding that no one can explain how I lack it. I know my life and personal experiences. I know when I go to people of color events to try to be a good ally they don’t want me there because I am white. I’ve had people who won’t date me because of the color of my skin. I have never rejected anyone based on skin color. The anti-racist racists have already judged me and decided they don’t want me. Why should I bother trying to befriend people who don’t want to be my friend or want my support? Why should I go out of my way to try to support people who won’t support me? What about people caring about being an ally to me for being queer, Jewish, and mentally ill?

I’ve lost lots of friends over being mentally ill. I have people who I’ve known for years turn on me for something beyond my control. I’ve been assaulted for being a homosexual. I don’t know many people of color who’ve been assaulted for being a person of color or lose friends over it. It’s not like they wake up one day and they’re a person of color like I woke up one day with a chemical imbalance. I deal with anti-semantism due to my heritage. Yet, due to my visible race, I am being told I don’t understand oppression?

I am not trying to play the who’s more oppressed than who game. But I find the radical circles intolerable of differences. They want to be project an image of representing a minority and apart from my class and skin color, I am a minority. But all that is ignored and not validated because of my skin. I am told I don’t understand. I do understand and can relate because I am oppressed to.

With that being said, I am doing the best I can do to make the world a more loving, tolerant place. I am trying to be the best ally to everyone but to be told I am lacking without being able to be told why is madness. I would never turn to anyone and say, “You aren’t being a good enough ally.” Or “Your experience aren’t valid.” Or even “You don’t understand.” That’s hateful and violent within itself to not valid another’s experience. I do understand and know what it’s like to be hated for something that isn’t your choice.

To automatically declare I am an oppressor based on the color of my skin is as ridiculous to decide I oppress due to my gender, sexuality, height, weight, type of peanut butter I eat. It’s to make an enemy out of a friend. It’s to become the oppressor yourself.

To simply be told by people who don’t know me that I’m a “privilege rich white kid” and I’m “not a good enough white ally” without being able to explain why other than saying “You don’t understand.” is to not even begin to examine the whole picture. It’s not validating the oppression I face. It’s not validating my family’s struggle so that I can have a better life than they had. It’s not looking at the fact I am using my privilege to try to fight against all forms of oppression. That I acknowledge my privilege but it’s not my fault. I can only work with what I am given and I doing the best I can. I don’t, however, see people of all colors lining up to be allies to me or approaching me to find out how to be an ally for what I need allies for as they expect me to do for them – which I do. I have had people get upset at me for asking how to be a better ally since I should “educate myself” which is what I was trying to do by asking. I’m not a psychic or a mind reader. I’ve never had anyone ask me how to be an ally to me for anything already mentioned. It’s not fair that so much is demanded of me but I can’t ask for the same in return. Because I’m white and I don’t understand oppression.

Bring on the comments

  1. Libby Freeman says:

    I am curious as to what “anti-racist racists” you are referring to.
    I have a similar background to yours and have noticed that people who are to hate me cannot as easily spot my cultural and sexual differences and though I have received poor treatment I also recognize that my stuff is not as easy to spot from distance, for example as skin color. Regardless of my experience, I know many others are treated worse and w/ greater frequency.
    I have quite a few friends who were beaten, profiled by the police, subject to poor treatment in stores, etc. all for their skin color or heritage.
    Again, who are these “anti-racist racists?”

  2. Libby Freeman says:

    Honestly, this is a bit of a sore subject for me and I’ll tell you why. What I have observed is many, many white looking people dismissing the legitimate concerns of those w/ a bit more pigment when experiences of racial discrimination comes up. I find this really disturbing and unfortunately common.

  3. Jess Five says:

    I am not dismissing the claims of anyone. I say their perception is just as valid as mine. I keep being told my opinions aren’t valid. Whenever someone tells me their experience of any background – I listen. For them, it’s their truth. That’s all anyone can do is listen to what’s being said and learn from it. It’s not my place to judge anyone as it is anyone’s place to judge me. But to be judge by people due to my skin color is ridiculous and not breaking the cycle. The cycle of hate has to end with you, if it doesn’t, who do you expect it to end with?

    Anti-racist racists are people who are so into being anti-racists that they actually become racists themselves. They are pretty common from my experience. They sometimes make racist comments and jokes to try to show they are “beyond that.”

  4. Libby Freeman says:

    I wasn’t saying necessarily saying that YOU dismiss anyone’s claims. I was mentioning a phenomenon I’ve noticed that applies to this subject.
    You presented yourself as a person who offers their support as an ally to “people of color” and is repeatedly spurned for the color of your skin. I would gently suggest that if this is the case, and this sort of thing happens over and over to you that maybe you are putting people off in some way…and no, people do not always tell you when/how/why…in my experience it is very rare when people are vocal about these things.
    I am still unclear about these “anti-racist racists.” I am familiar w/ people reappropriating stereotypes.
    Anyways, I hope this resolves itself somehow rather than just perpetuating more racial misgivings amongst people.

  5. Jess Five says:

    Actually, it was another white ally who was saying I wasn’t being a good enough ally. A person I only know online as opposed to people who actually know me. It upset me that judgment was being passed and demands were being made of me when I never ask anything of anyone else. I never ask people to be allies to me – if they want to that’s their choice. Everyone has lots of stuff on their plate. In regards to being shafted in the people of color community, I have absolutely no idea. I offered to help with the event/promote it/make a webpage/etc. and they wanted nothing to do with me. All they did was complain that white women who voted for Hilary Clinton in the primaries instead of Obama were being racist which is ridiculous. So, I left. I wasn’t wanted and the event wasn’t even advertised as a person of color geared event. They invited anyone but I was the minority and being forced to represent my entire race which is an issue that people of color complain of. They just do what is done to them in reverse and I am tired of that. I’m not the only person who feels this way – that due to my skin I don’t count in certain circles. It’s just penetrating the hate. My response to being not wanted is to not go or associate with people who are anti-racist racists. They are closed minded not through judging them but by their actions showing it. Actions speak way louder than words. I’d rather be an ally to people who want me than to people who hate me for things beyond my control.

  6. Libby Freeman says:

    Honestly, I wish you would make it clear in the article that it was a “another white ally” who made these claims against you…because it is not clear and very misleading.

    Refusing to acknowledge that some most definitely voted against the color of president Obama’s skin is an example of dismissing legitimate racial concerns.

  7. Jess Five says:

    If it was as big as an issue as people claim it is, he wouldn’t have won. Racism, like antisemitism, sexism, or homophobia will always be a problem. However, there comes a point when you have say it’s dealt with as much as it can be dealt with and move on. There will always be ignorant bigots out there with prejudices. I might not experience racism – but I experience other forms of prejudice and bigotry which is just as valid. However, you don’t seem Jews demanding non-Jews to be allies in the fight against antisemitism yet there are still Nazis. There are places in the South if people knew I was Jewish, I would be treated the same way as person of color or maybe worse by the KKK. You don’t hear of Jews not befriending non-Jews because of their beliefs and not understanding their oppression. I am just saying the stance of the anti-racist racists is pretty ridiculous that they project responsibility on everyone else to education themselves and don’t put the responsibility to help on their own shoulders. They also ignore the oppression of others in their self-pity and think they are the only ones who deal with such plight. I am constantly being put on a peddle stool by society for just being myself but my struggle is invisible because of my skin and demands are being made of me. That’s not fair. I don’t demand people of any color to be educated about the Holocaust and how the Nazis went after my people. There’s a reason why Holocaust survivors give talks about such a horrible experience: to help educate. There are also tons of survivors who’s lives have been ruined by the Holocaust – survivors who can’t wait in lines because it reminds them of the camps. We all know about slavery but not that. They don’t tell people “Oh, it’s too horrible, go find out about it yourself,” when asked about it like has happened to me when I have asked people of color about what I don’t understand when they dismiss me due to my race. They’ll talk to you about because no one else is going to fight their fight for them. They don’t expect others to know as people of color expect of white allies. I don’t not date people because they lack an understanding of antisemitism. I don’t hang out only with other Jews because the rest of the world doesn’t get it. The position of the anti-racist racists is separatism and ignorant. It isn’t revolutionary – it is violent and hateful. Slavery ended 200 or so years ago. The Holocaust happened like 60 years ago. No one denies that slavery happened. People deny that the Holocaust happen. There comes a point when you have to be, “I’ve been oppressed. I won’t forget but I forgive.” to end the circle of hate. That’s exactly what these anti-racist racists aren’t doing. I have. My people, for the most part, have but our oppression doesn’t matter because we’re “white.”

  8. Libby Freeman says:

    I would encourage you to examine your statement: “If it were as big an issue as people claim it is, he wouldn’t have won.”
    What does that mean? I’ll tell you how it sounds…it sounds as if you are saying that racism is not such a big deal unless it cost someone their job. Remember, this is the only president whose documentation, birth certificate, etc. were called to question, among other things. I find this outrageous.
    Also, to say that racism, homophobia, sexism, etc. will always be a problem is to normalize them. I actually don’t think they “will always” be a problem. I don’t believe in “always.” If this sounds too dreamy or idealistic, I would remind you that those working for the greater good often suspend belief so as not to engage in the normalization of oppression.
    Again, to say that “you don’t hear of Jews not befriending non-Jews because of their beliefs…” is to suggest that one group of people are somehow better than another. If you are not hearing this it is probably because you are not listening as it certainly does happen. All of these thing happen across the board, to try and measure groups for more or less of this is to seek out difference in people. Half of my family is Jewish! My Jews actually did immigrate to the deep south and were treated very, very badly. Because of their experience many of them and their offspring worked in the early civil rights movement where they were finally treated w/ respect and had an opportunity to work for a greater good. My grandparents (before they died) were the first to admit that southern Blacks were treated worse than them, because they saw it.
    Yes, antisemitism still exists. There are historical revisionists who pretend the holocaust never happened and these groups are mostly looked upon as fringe nut cases…hurtful nut cases, but nut cases none the less. I feel that there is a great deal more accessible education (consider the History Channel for example) concerning the holocaust than there is about African American history in America. Irregardless, the responsibility for education on these subjects falls on the individual. I figure that it is my job to educate myself about everyone I share a society w/.
    You have suggested a few time in your article and in this discussion that “people of color” are somehow not as well behave as Jews. Can you see how this attitude might put people off a bit?
    Not to mention that you implied that the unflattering words that came from a “white ally” were spoken by a “person of color.”
    I am sure that you see how something like that can exacerbate race relations amongst people.

  9. Jess Five says:

    You ignored most of what I said and you are just arguing for the sake of arguing. Once an idea exists, it will always exist. Good, bad, indifferent. You can’t kill ideas. Thus, even if we burned all the books and destroyed everything ever mentioning hateful ideas and had shiny happy people – someone will invent the idea again. So, realistically, it will always be a problem because there will always be messed up people. There comes a point when you got to accept reality for what it is and not associate with those who hate you for being you. I am turned off from most radical circles because to them my existence isn’t valid because of the color of my skin. With friends like that, who needs enemies? Again, ideas, once they exist, good, neutral, or bad – will always exist so they’ll always be a few nutcases out there. I am not going to go out of my way to go into a group that doesn’t want me. I am not going to be an ally to people who don’t validate me because of my skin color. They are prejudice and hateful and not worth my time. Just as I won’t go to the middle of a Nazi rally trying to find friends. Those people aren’t my friends. To make an enemy out of an ally is a great mistake. To make demands of people without being willing to do the work yourself is ridiculous. I don’t care about people’s skin color anymore than I care about gender – because both things are beyond a person’s control. You can’t blame someone for something that isn’t a personal choice but you’re saying it’s alright to. It’s not.

  10. Libby Freeman says:

    Actually, I have paid very close attention to what you have said…you couldn’t be more wrong about that.
    And no, i am not “arguing for the sake of arguing.” You have written about issues that I care deeply about and thus feel inclined to share my opinions.
    While one can’t “kill ideas,” ideas most definitely do change.
    I think it a real shame that you refuse to correct your misleading statement w/ in the body of the blog.

  11. Jess Five says:

    No, you are only hearing what you want to hear and not what’s being said. This particular time it was a white ally but I have had plenty of incidents when it wasn’t. If you want more proof, check out my article on Racism in the Queer scene on The New Gay and the comments. I was pretty badly bashed by people who don’t understand and also won’t listen of all colors and walks of life. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, I hear yours, but I disagree that judging people for elements beyond their control is perpetrating hate and not ending it. I believe -you- have to be the bigger person and say, “I forgive,” to end the cycle. If it’s always an eye for an eye, the whole world will go blind.

  12. H. says:

    Jesus Christ, you have said so much white supremacist (that’s right, not racist, but white supremacist) stuff in this entry, and even more so in the comments, and you don’t even realize it. This is one of many reasons why people of color just don’t want to put up with white people sometimes; we get tired of the cluelessness. We’ve been trying to explain for hundreds of years, with no one listening, and some white girl comes along and whines about the fact that she doesn’t understand and feels left out? WE’RE TIRED OF EXPLAINING. We want to be able to relax in the comfort of company that just understands sometimes. You can’t compare it to people taking the time to educate about the Holocaust; that is in the past and people living today cannot be expected to fully understand it without history lessons; white supremacy is ongoing, and by your own admission, you are living through it every day. There are authors who write about our issues; if you don’t understand, go get yourself a book. Hell, you can probably just Google the answer. Go read It has a nice list of white supremacist stuff well-meaning white people like yourself do inadvertently.

    Your experiences with other oppressions are NOT THE SAME, NOT EVEN SIMILAR, and it’s insulting that you would even bring them up in relation to white supremacy.

  13. Jess Five says:

    I respect your opinion but I disagree as previously addressed in the other comments. You don’t get it. You are perpetrating hate and not ending it by viewing the world in black and white and not a spectrum of color. Plus, picking on me due to my race thus being racist yourself when you have no right to. You’re an anti-racist racist I was talking about.

  14. Libby Freeman says:

    Jess, you flipped the discussion! Now you are pretty much saying that all who do not agree w/ you are racists! You HAVE made many, many white supremacist statements in this entry and throughout the comments. Attitudes like yours are unfortunately rather common amongst white people and do nothing but help to keep the status quo. You have said many times that I “just don’t understand,” which again, you couldn’t be more wrong about this. The ideas and attitudes you have presented are staple racist rhetoric, you’re the one who doesn’t understand. Another fine example of this is you pretending that H is “perpetrating hate and not ending it by viewing the world in black and white and not a spectrum of color.” I mean, are you serious? You don’t hear how ridiculous and insulting that statement is?
    I want you to understand that I have not judged you for the color of your skin…Rather, for your supremacist attitudes. There is a big difference!
    Also, having worked on many multi cultural social justice projects, from my experience it is impossible to share space w/ people who have opinions (or rather have been indoctrinated by the racist media culture) such as yours.

  15. Jess Five says:

    You claim I am being white supremacist but can’t point out one example how. I don’t care what color people’s skin are – it’s just as important as gender which doesn’t matter either. To blame people for being born in a particular body is ridiculous. That quote you are using is being used out of context, “I keep being told I don’t understand racism but no one can explain to me how I don’t get it.” You aren’t explaining it either and are making pretty flippant claims. I have a different perspective. I view -all oppression- as being intertwined and connected. Oppression all stems from the same source – that being ignorance and an underling violence. I’ve faced many types of oppression and I don’t think of any of what face – be it homophobia, ableism, antisemitism, classim, etc. to be any different from one another. You have never had to face losing people you thought were friends for a condition beyond your control. I have and it sucks a lot. Do I hate the people who judge me because they don’t understand mental illness? No. I don’t consider every mentally healthy person to be an oppressor of the mentally ill. Is it a valid theory? No. Not everyone who is mental healthy oppresses the mentally ill. But, it’s okay for people with racism philosophy to view all whites as oppressors. It is a hateful ideology and not true. I disagree. There are plenty of other people who think the theories are full of it as well. It’s called a “Theory” for a reason. It’s based off person experiences, just like my ideas are, thus the posting is listed as Theories. Hate and violence needs to end with you. You need to stop being hateful and labeling people this or that. Calling them “white supremacists” for having a equally valid, non-hateful, non-discriminatory point of view that validates -all- humans experiences not just those with some pigment. People are so afraid of not being political correct or disagreeing with a collective bad idea. The Jews never demand things of people like radical people of color do of everyone else that’s not a person of color. The Jews -ask- but never demand and have dealt with a lot worse in modern time – it’s only been 80 years since the Holocaust. I think radical racism theory is alienating. I am not the only one who feels this way. Just recently at Pride in the Transgendered space, this person voiced they were thankful to be in a space that accepted them as they were and wasn’t alienating them for being white. It’s not my fault for being born into this meatsuit. So stop blaming and hating us. I don’t blame or hate you. I am constantly defending people of color when other folks make racist comments. Like, just the other day, this girl mentioned how people of color take bad care of their neighborhoods and homes. I was pretty horrified by the comment. It had nothing to do with the people’s race. Someone’s skin color has nothing to do with how clean a neighborhood is. So, I called them out on it and how their comment was racist. That’s being racist, opinions and generalizations like that. Not relating all oppression as one battle, one struggle. Letting people know they should be grateful for their allies and not hate people. People can disagree with me and not be racist – however, her comments were clearly those of an anti-racist racist by picking on me for being white. When will the prejudice end if not with you?

  16. Judy says:

    Jess, it was a very interesting blog entry to read (just like all of your other entries), however I was shocked to see all the hostile comments. I fully agree with you; and I think that those two hateful people are just that – hateful. Seems like they don’t know/forgot that the circle of hate has to end from themselves first. Calling other people just for the sake of name calling is just prolonging hate that they claim to be against. If you’re a person of color and all you do is call every white person a white supremacist (with no valid explanations), then you’re doing the same thing that actual WS people do – you perpetuate hate. I think this is pretty clear. When groups of people of color purposefully alienate themselves from the society of white people (even those who want to be allies), they’re doing just that – alienation.

    P.S. That blog stuffwhitepeopledo is pretty entertaining as well. Very funny to read the comments, too.

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