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Scalzi explains privilege

Postby monk » Tue May 15, 12:45 2012

Have I mentioned that I really like John Scalzi?

In a way I believe we are the same person in views and outlook. We are one year apart in age and we grew up about 50 miles apart in Southern California so our cultural heritage is almost identical. I like to think I could be him if I was a little more eloquent and a little less of an asshole. Anyways he has a blog that's been around forever called Whatever and today he is explaining privilege in very simple terms that may help some of us out trying to explain it to others.

Enjoy.
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Re: Scalzi explains privilege

Postby rowan » Tue May 15, 12:50 2012

No fair, I was going to post that!

I thought it was a pretty great analogy. It's been posted on FB/G+ by a bunch of my guy friends. I have awesome guy friends.
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Re: Scalzi explains privilege

Postby Rainbow Dolphins » Sun May 20, 0:15 2012

I saw this on fb and thought it was awesome. I think this will be a good resource link for future conversations about privelege.

I am also glad I'm not the only one who sees that the resistance is generally to the word itself, and not necessarily the concept, and I'm glad someone else is working on a way around that resistance.
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Re: Scalzi explains privilege

Postby lillerina » Mon May 21, 1:25 2012

I wonder why there's resistance to the word. I don't really see it being used very often outside of social justice conversations. In the back of my head there's a seedling of a theory that nobody wants to believe that the world has been made easier for them, because that somehow diminishes their achievements. People want to think, "Yeah, I bought a house, awesome accomplishment, I worked hard and I deserve that!" without thinking "Okay, I bought a house, but it was easier for me to buy that house because I'm abled/grew up middle class/had a university education/am white/am male/etc. So yeah, I worked hard, but I don't deserve that more than someone who is as hardworking as I am but started from a harder level."
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Re: Scalzi explains privilege

Postby Aum » Mon May 21, 4:19 2012

^ I think there are definitely competing realities when it comes to privilege and non-privilege. My problem with the term is that many use it to equivocate on suffering and life challenges. It's like saying that I haven't suffered a lot because I'm white, even though my life has had a lot of torturous problems in it, many of them driving me to suicidal ideation, and many of which the social discourses don't care about because I'm written off for being a white man.

If we want to talk about social inequities, then fine. Just like it's racist/classist/sexist to say that someone isn't worthy because of their status in society, it's equally as racist/classist/sexist to presume my life has been easy because I'm a white guy. Both approaches ignore an individual's personal story.
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Re: Scalzi explains privilege

Postby Sonic# » Mon May 21, 7:13 2012

I like Scalzi's analogy for the most part, but there are a few big difficulties with it.

In the reactions I saw (on Kotaku and Jezebel), they read it as saying that their lives have been easy because of privilege, like privilege is a golden ticket to an easy life. Many of them were very defensive on that point. Many others missed the point and claimed that another group (usually some variation of "gorgeous white women" or occasionally "asians" or "everyone but white people") were more privileged. This is to be expected: sometimes a message gets lost in delivery, people had already made their mind up about "privilege" being a word that means "they don't deserve what they get," people mistake sexism for advantage, and so on.

They could have read Scalzi's middle paragraphs more closely. Scalzi does a lot of work to not equivocate on suffering and life challenges. His trouble is that, within the game analogy, he struggles to explain himself without trivializing failure as either a lack of build points or player error.[1] It's difficult for him to articulate reasons for failure or success that are outside the difficulty level or the player, difficult to account for incidental misfortunes.

Maybe that's one place where resistance to the word comes in. If a privilege is a status conferred onto someone, it's hard for people to understand the benefits that they do get when they are poor or disliked. So it's like diminishing one's achievements, but in reverse - it also reduces one's suffering.

[1]
Scalzi wrote:Likewise, it's certainly possible someone playing at a higher difficulty setting is progressing more quickly than you are, because they had more points initially given to them by the computer and/or their highest stats are wealth, intelligence and constitution and/or simply because they play the game better than you do. It doesn't change the fact you are still playing on the lowest difficulty setting.
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Re: Scalzi explains privilege

Postby Snarky » Sat May 26, 1:29 2012

I have to admit, at first when encounter the word I was very resistant. I knew the concept of 'privledge' made a lot of sense, it's something I think I knew all along, but putting a word to it... something was very uncomfortable about it, it made me feel all weird and sad, and certainly guilty. I know it's not supposed to, but that's what happened, and I hear that not an uncommon reaction- so maybe many people feel this and just immediately resist?

I'd also agree that there's a problem when explaining it, of having to be very careful not to down play peoples suffering, and accomplishments, as already stated.

Something about the word- not the definition, but just the very feel of the word, denotes a feeling of blame. Just in my opinion of course.

Also, any time someone tells me I HAVE to be a part of a group, I feel the natural urge to resist. Despite how nonsensical it might sound, one of my first reactions was "Who are you to say I'm white/male/striaght?!" .... even if it's true. I guess I don't like being categorized is the thing. Does that one make sense to anyone other than me? I have a feeling this is a rather confusing thing to try to explain.

I do understand privledge though, I'm simply trying to put words to why I had a negative reaction towards it at first, to try to explain why others also might.
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Re: Scalzi explains privilege

Postby Rainbow Dolphins » Sun May 27, 5:27 2012

I don't know, I really don't like the word privilege just because of the negative connotations. I think it might be because when you say something is a "privilege" it often means something you earned. Obviously, nobody "earns" the privilege of being white or male or abled or straight or what have you. It's just something that happens to you. Since the word implies some kind of agency, when you try to tell someone they have privilege their gut reaction is to be defensive. They think, well, I didn't do anything, why are you getting on my case about something that's not my fault? Maybe they feel like you're saying they have this privilege that they didn't earn, so they don't deserve it. Of course, that is not what we are saying... we want all people to have the privilege of not fearing sexual assault, and not being judged based on their clothing or appearance first, or to not be assumed less capable based on nonrelevant physical attributes.

I don't really have a suggestion for a better word, but "privilege" has always struck me as one of those buzzwords that tends to do more harm than good, because a single word simply cannot sum up such an important and deep concept. I think this is a damn shame because it is so, so important for EVERYONE to understand if we are going to fight sexism and other forms of discrimination.
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Re: Scalzi explains privilege

Postby Mathmo » Sun May 27, 11:35 2012

Rainbow Dolphins wrote: I think it might be because when you say something is a "privilege" it often means something you earned.


I've been thinking about this recently. "Privilege" as used in social justice type contexts is definitely at odds with how I might use the word in other contexts. For example, driving my mother-in-law's car is a privilege, although she is happy for me to do so routinely. It's a privilege that I in some sense earn by taking care of the car, driving safely, buying petrol, etc, but she is under no obligation to let me use her car, and if she said I couldn't use it any more, well, fair enough. Maybe that's another key difference - that "privileges" can be things that you earn, and also things that can be taken away from you? Whereas things like gender and ethnicity obviously can't be taken away.

But then again, the word does fit in terms of "a privilege is a thing that you might mistakenly think you have earned, but it has been given to you and it's important to recognise that". E.g. you might have a person who has been brought up in a way where they can have nearly everything they want, and then at some point they may have to realise that the source of all these things is not their innate wonderfulness and their rights, but really their family's wealth (or something). Is that a good analogy? I don't know.
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Re: Scalzi explains privilege

Postby lillerina » Sun May 27, 13:54 2012

Etymologically, privilege means private law - lege as in legislation. Privilege is a way that the world works for you that it doesn't work for other people.
If I bang my head against a brick wall five times and get five lumps, why am I surprised when I bang it a sixth time and get a sixth lump?

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Re: Scalzi explains privilege

Postby Ama » Mon May 28, 0:34 2012

Privilege bothers me too. I don't really have much else to add to that. A different word could make the concept more palatable I think.
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Re: Scalzi explains privilege

Postby Rainbow Dolphins » Mon May 28, 1:04 2012

lillerina wrote:Etymologically, privilege means private law - lege as in legislation. Privilege is a way that the world works for you that it doesn't work for other people.

That makes a lot of sense, but I wouldn't have known that unless you told me (indeed, I didn't until just now). The word has negative connotations as it's used colloquially today. I just think the word alienates a LOT of people who would have little to no trouble grasping the concept if it was framed in a different way.
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