communists in situ

leberwurst proletariat

Tag: privilege

The Perils of “Privilege”

635937524639160016662530646_check-your-privilege

 Why Injustice Can’t Be Solved by Accusing Others of Advantage

Phoebe Maltz Bovy / St. Martin’s Press

INTRODUCTION: THE “PRIVILEGE” TURN

“[A] HORRIBLE PERSON”

In a freezing-cold flat in Berlin, I’m standing under the shower with the water turned up as high and hot as it will go. I’m trying to boil away the shame of having said something stupid on the internet. The shower is the one place it’s still impossible to check Twitter. This is a mercy. For as long as the hot water lasts I won’t be able to read the new accusations of bigotry, racism and unchecked privilege. I didn’t mean it. I don’t understand what I did wrong but I’m trying to understand.

*   *   *

THE ABOVE RECOLLECTIONS, from a 2015 article in the New Statesman by the writer Laurie Penny, are where I wish to begin because they make up the most wrenching, but accurate, description that I’ve come across of what it can feel like to be called out online. The phenomenon she describes—the privilege call-out—is a new, if increasingly familiar, experience. Penny’s reaction—“I’ve spent very dark days, following social media pile-ons, convinced that I was a horrible person who didn’t deserve to draw breath”—may have been extreme, but such interactions aren’t the high point of anyone’s week. While I’ve never experienced quite that spiral, I know what it’s like to see a new blog comment or Twitter notification, and then another … followed, predictably, by the heart-racing realization that the Internet (and it always feels, in the moment, like the entire Internet) has found me out.

The outright hateful comments are, as Penny notes, easier to handle, in a way. As unpleasant as it was the week when neo-Nazi Twitter made me its Jewess-du-jour, and as frightened as I was during the weeks when pro-gun Twitter made it known what it thought about my anti-gun stance, there’s something more viscerally draining about an “unchecked privilege” accusation. What’s so useful about Penny’s description is that she hones in on two of the key reasons why that’s the case. One is, as she spells out, that the accusation manages to tap into the accused’s worst fears about her value as a person. The other, which she does not, is the lack of specificity. Unlike earlier generations of bigotry accusation, the privilege call-out is intentionally vague, while also, at times, hyperspecific. Either your privilege is showing, and you’re not entirely sure which form of privilege (let alone how to appropriately respond), or you’ve suddenly learned that you’re wrong because surely you’ve never worked in food service, something about which your interlocutor, a stranger on the Internet, is remarkably certain.

A privilege accusation prompts the accused to contemplate his or her unearned advantages, and—all too often—to publicly self-flagellate for the same. The less saintly among us, though, will soon remember (and, all too often, reply) that we haven’t had it quite as easy as our accusers imply. And sometimes the specific privilege accusation will have been inaccurate. Regardless of how, exactly, all of this plays out, one thing’s for sure: The conversation will have switched from one about some broader issue to the ultimately trivial question of our privilege.

However, I’m getting ahead of myself. What is this thing, “privilege,” and why is getting accused of possessing it so fraught?

Read the rest of this entry »

Trigger Warning

Group of corporate business people networking on a white background

 Micro-aggressions, Privilege Theory, Safe Spaces deemed acceptable by Capitalism

On Queer Privilege

zuck-web

In these intersectional times, it will not, I hope, be too controversial of a claim to suggest that, in different contexts and at different moments, hierarchies of power shift, and with them the relationship of different groups and individuals to what we have come to call “privilege.” Among the most common expressions of privilege as it is widely understood is a certain priority of speech: the right to be listened to, to be taken seriously, to be seen and heard as speaking from a position of conceptual and experiential authority. That priority of speech is often accompanied by the tacit assumption of an equivalent moral priority.

I would like to speak about something I can only call “queer privilege.”

Queer privilege is not everywhere. Even after decades of activism and “theory,” there is still a bigoted wide world out there, full of enforced normativity, compulsory heterosexuality, and relentless, violent policing. That goes without saying. Plenty are the spaces where queers are still shunned, vilified, or punished. But there are also spaces where the opposite is true. Activist spaces, social justice spaces, critical theory spaces; universities and meetings and small presses. Oh, and Tumblr. In these spaces, where a generalized ideology of anti-normativity holds sway, queerness is a badge of honor, a marker of specialness, and a source of critical and moral authority: in short, a form of privilege. It is the privilege that allows social justice discourse to use the phrase “cis white patriarchy” a shorthand for everything that is wrong with the world; it is the privilege that allows academics like Lee Edelman and Tim Dean to claim not only a value but an ethical imperative for non-reproductive sexual acts; it is the privilege that leads people who have never had sex with someone of the same gender to write impassioned essays about their choice to identify as queer because of their discomfort at being identified with the oppressive forces behind the label “straight.” Queer privilege is what allows a tenured NYU professor, tongue supposedly in cheek, to talk about starting a “barstool-roots movement for left wing urban homosexuals,” as if it’s heterosexuality that keeps most people from drinking in the West Village while they theorize and not the fact that they have to work 3 jobs and don’t have tenure at one of the most powerful universities in the world.

Read the rest of this entry »