Privilege Part 2: Internal vs External Effects

By Kimberly Congdon, PhD

Previously, I wrote a piece explaining privilege and intersectionality. This is just a brief follow-up. If you missed it, check here. From that, it should be clear the trouble that is created by privilege in modern western society. The focus of much of today’s activism is in dismantling the effect of privilege, through enacting protections for groups lacking those privileges, and through making us all aware of how privilege affects us. This has led to disagreement over the impact of privilege, who really has it, and how much it matters. In order to get past this argument, we have to understand how privilege impacts our lives. The truth is that privilege has TWO effects – an internal effect, and an external effect. Often when people disagree on the role of privilege, it’s because they aren’t talking about the same effect.

Let’s start with the external effect of privilege. This is when people, or a system, treat you differently because of your identity. It results in things like white people having an easier time getting mortgages than black people, wealthy kids being able to access educational support not available to poor kids, and cisgender people having an easier time getting hired than transgender people. These, ultimately, are examples of discrimination, which in some cases is illegal already, in other cases is not but should be, and in yet other cases, not reasonably dictated by law, but in need of changing through policy measures nonetheless. This differential access to resources, based off aspects of identity, is the core of the inherent inequality in our society. It’s what racism/sexism/homophobia/insert-bigotry-of-your-choice-here looks like. When people say things like “The system is racist!” this is what they’re talking about. So, the external effect of privilege is really important, because it helps to maintain the power imbalance, by giving more advantages to the people already benefitting the most from inequality.

With that said, the internal effect of privilege may actually be more insidious, and harder to eradicate. Because the internal effect is the belief that you actually deserve the benefits of privilege. It’s the internalization of a lifetime of advantage and deference that is actually just the result of your identity, incorporated instead as a sense of merit. You didn’t get that job because you’re white, you got it because you earned it. You didn’t get into Harvard because your parents went to Harvard, you got in because you deserved to. You didn’t ace the SAT because your parents could afford a tutor, you aced it because you’re just that smart. And so on. Dangerously, the internal effects of privilege are very good at blinding people to the external effects of privilege. Because in order to get people to recognize their privilege, they have to be willing to believe that, perhaps, they DIDN’T earn that promotion, they aren’t that smart, they aren’t that talented, they’re just privileged. That’s a very hard pill for almost anyone to swallow, so there’s no wonder they resist it. Especially in the US, where we’ve done such a great job selling the American Dream, convincing people that they’ve succeeded not on their merits, but on their race, gender, sexual identity or orientation, family status, etc, is bound to be an uphill battle. It can even be so insidious that people will fully recognize the existence of privilege IN GENERAL while refusing to recognize that they themselves benefitted from it. When people are resistant to recognizing their own privilege, they will be unable to ally with others and fight for their equality. Instead, they will interpret their sphere as one that’s unique in being merit-based, and disbelieve that others are disadvantaged because of their identity. These are people who will vote liberally, donate to charities, spend their time registering voters, and in their own workplace, not speak up when time and again, POC are passed over for promotion, gay co-workers face microaggressions not lobbed at straight co-workers, and disabled co-workers are seen as lazy, instead of lacking necessary accommodations. And just like all politics are local, so is all activism. If you aren’t an ally in your own backyard, you’re not really an ally anywhere.

If we do a sufficient job of eradicating the external effects of privilege, eventually the internal effects disappear. However, it’s unlikely we’ll have the power to do that without the support of people who have been brainwashed by the internal effects of privilege. Therefore, our first goal has to be developing techniques for making people aware of not just privilege in general, but the role of privilege in their own lives.

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Dr. Congdon is an anthropologist, anatomist, scientist, feminist, activist conservationist. When those things collide, she writes about it here. She wants you to vote, and stop littering.

Understanding Privilege and Intersectionality: A Primer

By Kimberly Congdon, PhD

 

Privilege and intersectionality are two concepts that get tossed around a lot these days. “Privilege” can be a very contentious idea, and there has been a lot of pushback and denial that it even exists, let alone that it’s an important sociocultural force. “Intersectionality” on the other hand is the newest buzzword among allies. The problem is that a lot of so-called allies touting intersectionality are the same people arguing against the existence and power of privilege, and that’s a problem because – privilege and intersectionality are linked concepts. You can’t really understand one if you don’t understand the other. That also means you can’t be truly intersectional unless you understand and acknowledge privilege. So, here’s a primer, breaking the two down, and explaining how they link.

Intersectionality is the idea that each person’s identity is made up of multiple components. No one is just one thing. I am a woman, and white, and a liberal, and a scientist, and an academic, and single, and middle class, and an American citizen, and a native English speaker, and and and … If we think of life as made up of adjacent and overlapping spheres, then each element composing our identity affects our ability to move in those spheres. Spheres come in all types. Your work environment is a sphere. The bar you go to for Friday Happy Hour is a sphere. The subway car is a sphere. The Internet is a sphere. Each sphere has a power structure, and where you fit in that power structure dictates the ease with which you move through that sphere. The various aspects of your identity determine where you fit into each power structure controlling each sphere. Access to that power structure is a privilege.

Privilege is the positive consequence inherently associated with specific elements of an identity. Depending on the sphere, certain privileges may be worth more than they are in other spheres. If a privilege is associated with a certain identity, and you have that identity, you have that privilege. It doesn’t matter if you feel it, or if you’ve ever recognized the effect, because privilege comes from how others treat you, and that relies on how THEY see you, not how you see yourself (more on this another day). Privilege comes in two types – those that are innate, and those you can acquire. For innate privilege, we’re talking about issues like race, sex, gender, sexual orientation and citizenship. Acquired privileges are things like education, wealth and residency (although you can be born into some of those, too). Having innate privileges can make it easier to get acquired privileges. Changing circumstances can eliminate acquired privileges, but never innate privileges. And lacking one type of privilege does not necessarily eliminate the effects of the other kinds. For example, growing up in poverty doesn’t eliminate any racial privilege you may have, it just means you lack economic/class privilege. Since some spheres are controlled by a power structure based on race, and others are controlled by a power structure based on class or wealth, you still have privilege in the race-based spheres, regardless of how you’re treated in the wealth-based spheres.

Who has the most privilege? Rich, straight, cis, white men will always have the most power, in any sphere. After that, generally speaking, white people have more privilege than non-white people. But the problem is that people think this is an adding game. It isn’t. It’s about spheres of influence, unfair power differentials, and using our privilege to elevate those who lack it. Spheres overlap more often than they stack. A white woman will have more privilege than a black man in spheres where race is more important, and less privilege in spheres where gender is more important. (This may seem complicated, but it’s still a simplified view. The idea of spheres I’ve presented is much more discrete than the reality. In reality, no matter the sphere – race ALWAYS matters, gender ALWAYS matters, sexual orientation ALWAYS matters – it’s really more about proportions than absolutes. And because of the variable nature of humans, things can vary. Not all work spheres are created equal. In some jobs, gender carries more power than race, and in others, it’s the opposite. So you can’t really ever take your personal experience and judge the validity of the claims of others based on whether or not it matches yours. Keep that in mind when you encounter people who state they’ve experienced biases you’re unfamiliar with.)

What this all means is that no two people who share one identity have experienced that identity in the same way. It means that what my experience of womanhood has been is not the same as the experience of womanhood of a black woman because my experience of womanhood has been modified by my whiteness, while hers has been modified by her blackness. However, her experience is not necessarily identical to that of another black woman, either, because one may be an American citizen and the other may not be, or one my straight while the other is gay ….. see how it starts to get complicated? This complexity matters, and treating it like it matters is called “being intersectional”. The REASON it matters is that those individuals who lack power in a sphere also lack visibility. When we identify figureheads for identities, we tend to choose those who are visible. Therefore, when we talk about “feminism”, we’re probably talking about white feminism, when we talk about what women need to be equal, we’re probably talking about what WHITE women need – because they’re the ones we see. They’re the ones with the visibility, and they get inserted into the default setting. But when we do that, and we address the issues of white women under the false notion that we are in fact helping ALL women, all we do is increase the gap between white women and non-white women (or cis women and trans women, or straight women and gay women, etc). We have to recognize the least visible and acknowledge that their needs, while different, are just as important. And THAT is being “intersectional” – it’s recognizing the diverse needs of people who share one identity that is the result of the fact that they have other identities that they don’t share with you.

I also want to take a minute to be clear – this is not just about race. Too often, people dissolve “intersectionality” down to an issue of race. That is specifically problematic in intersectional feminism, when it gets treated as meaning “women of color have it worse than white women”. That’s true, but that’s not the be-all, end-all of intersectionality. Intersectionality isn’t just about race. It’s about gender, gender identity, sex, sexual orientation, economic status, citizenship…ALL identities can be served by an intersectional approach to activism, not just racial ones.

So, recognize what privileges you have, recognize what spheres in which you have power, and start using that power to elevate the voices of those trying to exist in that sphere without the advantage of the privilege. That’s really the only way we save everyone – by elevating those with the least power – by being intersectional.

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Dr. Congdon is an anthropologist, anatomist, scientist, feminist, activist conservationist. When those things collide, she writes about it here. She wants you to vote, and stop littering.

The Women’s March welcomes all women – except Feminist Zionists?

Power To The Polls _Womens March Anniversary Event Jan 2018See the Women’s March Host Planning Committee above? I’m in that photo. I thought the Women’s March would be a great opportunity to register Millennials to come out and vote and loved the catchy “Power To The Polls” slogan thought up to entice young people to make their vote count in these midterm elections coming up. The idea of it all was punchy and persuasive.

After the 2017 Women’s March – the largest protest in the history of the United States – I felt like I was part of a sisterhood, a feminist collective voicing their needs while wearing crocheted pink hats and locking arms together across the country (and the world). To me, the only thing missing about that glorious day that we all needed so badly after enduring Trump’s election, was the presence of the real hero for many of us – Hillary Clinton.  Let’s be real. In those one million bodies holding signs and chanting in unison most of them were heartbroken to know DJT was going to be sitting in the Oval and not HRC.

Fast forward to a year later when I got the news that a local group of which I’m a member was asked to be part of a planning committee because the founding members of the Women’s March had decided to hold their anniversary event in Las Vegas, Nevada where I live. Nevada is a key battleground state and is also home to the first female Latina United States Senator (Catherine Cortez Masto), is the state with the second largest number of females in its legislature (second only to Vermont), has the 5th largest school district in the country (Clark County School District in Las Vegas), is the number one tourist destination in the world (Las Vegas), and recently was the site of the worst shooting massacre in modern US history. You can imagine my excitement. As a dedicated feminist, activist, and a staunch supporter of progressive causes, why would I have any reservations at all when it came to this opportunity? Two words.

LINDA SARSOUR. 

Seeing the Women’s March 2017 organizers giving the cold shoulder to Hillary was a bitter pill for me to swallow, I did it knowing that Hillary herself was tweeting that she was proud of the women who were marching, who were raising their voices, who believed in racial/social/economic/political equality and justice for ALL women (the true definition of a Feminist, by the way). I did it because I saw the importance of the larger picture. I understood the strategy. This time around though, that pill is a little harder to swallow. Why? It’s those pesky two words again.

LINDA SARSOUR.

Linda Sarsour QandA Lipstick Republic Blog

Ms. Sarsour makes no secret of her disdain for Feminist Zionists. In fact,  when asked for her response to an op-ed article written by Emily Shire of the NY Times, Linda said it wasn’t possible for a person to be a Feminist AND a Zionist.  Clearly, Linda needs to brush up on her vocabulary because the definition of Zionism is not a bad thing. Zionism is the belief that the Jewish people have a right to self-determination and freedom in their historic homeland. Being a Zionist does not mean that you agree with Israeli politics or that you’re a fan of Bibi or the Likud Party or that you don’t care about Palestinian Arabs. It simply means that you believe in the things stated above and that you believe the Jewish people have a right to liberation (they have, after all, been in existence for 5,777 years without a generation passing since the Babylonians where somewhere in the world some nation or ruler hasn’t tried to lobby for their extinction) and protection. Sarsour’s misdirected and misinformed beliefs she espouses with loud vitriol have rankled me for quite some time. I decided to share some of my concerns with her at a committee planning meeting she and the other three Women’s March co-founders were at with me along with a crowd full of people.

Below is part of the transcribed version of the video/audio that was taken which is still in the process of being uploaded. 

M: It’s no secret that a lot of Jewish women felt unwelcome at the Chicago Dyke March. So my question is, what do I say to women who are hesitant to come to this Women’s March event? Are women who identify as Jewish Americans welcome? Are they going to be turned away for wearing the Star of David? Are they going to be turned away for being Zionists? What should I say to them?

Linda Sarsour: This is a domestic movement meant to bring to attention the tyranny we’re living under. This is not a moment for any community to come and invoke their political position on our campaign. We don’t talk about foreign policy. There’s been conflation by some people. Not all Jewish people are Zionists. In fact, we have included all communities in our movement. In fact, at a recent convention we just had, it was I that organized the Shabbat Friday evening. It was I that paid for the kosher meal. It was I that coordinated groups like Jews for Justice and Jewish Voices for Peace to attend. Everybody has always been included. I think it’s important for people to understand that we don’t have time in groups like this for this conversation. It’s very clear that I’m Palestinian. There’s nothing I can do about that. I’m very proud to be Palestinian. Unfortunately, that in and of itself and my very existence has created controversy just by the virtue of who I am and particular positions that directly impact me and my family.

M: So are you saying that wearing a Star of David or being a Zionist won’t make them unwelcome at the event?

Linda Sarsour: What I want to say to people is that we have a tyrant in the White House and we are being stripped of our rights and if you care about the rights of your fellow Americans then show up to this March.

*This was just one of three questions I asked Ms. Sarsour. I plan to probe more at our next meeting and then blend both video recordings to upload here on the blog. This way, readers can see and hear all the questions and answers in full. 

Her answers did nothing to allay my concerns. In fact, they compounded them for me. She completely deflected my question about the Star of David and responded by basically saying that the political positions of other communities are not meant to be heard or shown at Women’s March events. Since when was the Star of David a political position? Last time I checked it was a religious symbol. Why are attendees allowed to wear Free Palestine t-shirts and hijabs but Feminist Zionists are shut down and told they have to choose between those identities. Also, groups like Jews for Justice or Jewish Voices for Peace are about as relevant and authentic to me as Jews for Jesus or groups like BDS in representing me. For her to try to spin their participation to allyship is laughable.

Sarsour’s social media accounts are rife with her own glaring modus operandi that is illustrated flagrantly. Why is she not held to the same standards she expects of other feminists in their intersectionality? Why can she have an outspoken Muslim voice but Jews with outspoken Zionist beliefs are “invoking their political issues on the WM”?

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It would appear from Ms. Sarsour’s propaganda and behavior that she is intent on using the Women’s March as a platform for her own designs disguised as championing feminism. When author and brave victim of female genital mutilation Ayaan Hirsi Ali spoke out in her book “Infidel: My Life” about crimes committed in the name of Islam, Sarsour had some very supportive (insert sarcasm here) words about the issue.

Linda Sarsour Twitter Rant _Lipstick Republic BlogCompassion and concern for all women really just radiate from Linda.  It’s evident that all views are fine as long as they are Linda’s views. Seriously though, if that’s not enough proof for you, try a quick Google search on Linda and you’ll find that she also endorses Siraj Wahaj, unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing who believes homosexuality is a disease.

Linda doesn’t seem to realize that Jewish women have always been at the forefront of the both the Women’s Rights and the Civil Rights movements. Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem are Jews. In fact,  It was the Women’s Movement that made Betty the proud Zionist she grew to be and spent her lifetime defending.

I know many Feminist Zionists are choosing to boycott the event in Las Vegas because of Ms. Sarsour’s stance on Zionism and interest in competing in what many call Woke Olympics. While I can certainly understand their pain and anger, I will be taking a different approach. On January 21, 2018, in Las Vegas, Nevada I will be at the  Women’s March: Power To The Polls. I will not let Linda Sarsour’s twisted definition of Zionism or Feminism dictate my narrative. I will not take off my Magen David. I will not be silent. Linda Sarsour does not represent me or any of my values with her support of violence or intolerance.

That’s not the sort of sisterhood I want to be a part of or the sort of feminism that I believe in – not today, not ever.

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Mimi Bergman is a business owner, historian, wife, and mom. She’s an ardent feminist, Zionist, and activist. Mimi is a fourth generation Chicago Cubs baseball fan.

Whatta Dame!

Jennifer Reitman DAME Magazine _ Lipstick-Republic Blog

 

Jennifer Reitman is a lady on a mission. She wants to empower women across the country and to give voice to their concerns and issues. As the Founder of DAME Magazine, she’s uniquely poised to do so on a national scale. The content is smart, provocative, and insightful and the journalists who write for DAME are among the best and most-awarded in the industry. If the magazine itself is the vox populi of the times, then Ms. Reitman is the doyen of the playing field.

LR: How did you come up with the idea for DAME?

JR:  I conceived of DAME before media outlets were digital native. I had always worked in the magazine business, and I was a voracious reader, but  I was never enamored with traditional women’s magazines. I tended to gravitate to general interest ones like Vanity Fair or men’s magazines like Esquire. I wanted great long-form journalism with a bit of lifestyle service, but women’s magazines were full of fashion and beauty or relationship tips.  At the same time, men’s magazines were obviously for men – so the voice, the lens, the perspective wasn’t meant for me. I came up with DAME as a way to satisfy the sensibilities of me and so many of my women friends.

LR: What are you most proud of when it comes to being the Founder of a magazine like DAME?

JR: I’m proud of so many things, it’s hard to pin it down to just one thing – but none of them have anything to do with me being the Founder. I’m incredibly proud of my editors, and how beloved they are by our writers. And of course, the writers themselves, they’ve won awards for the work they’ve done for us.  Perhaps one of the things that moves me the most – that makes it all so meaningful, are the notes we get from readers. When we get an email from someone who tells us that they love our site or that a story moved them, well – it makes it all worth it.

LR: What’s been your biggest challenge in terms of the issues you cover and the stories you tell in this current political climate?

JR: There are two.  The speed of the news cycle and picking what to focus on.  As a small site, we can’t cover everything, so sometimes there are stories that are important pegs for our features that are moving so fast that we just can’t catch up.  The second challenge is finding new angles – I think we’re good at that – but finding a unique take on a topic that almost every other site is covering can be a challenge.

LR: Does it concern you that the President calls much of mainstream media fake news?

JR: Enormously. It’s hard to rank my fears with this President but his attack on one of the absolute pillars of democracy is horrifying. A free press is critical.  In less than a year, he has managed to not only erode trust in the media but also his threats are truly authoritarian.

LR: Walk me through a typical workday.

JR: I wake up at about 4am and review all of the overnight or morning trending news. From there, I check in with my editors to see the status of stories. I’ll work with the entire team, social and editors, to ideate future features, new writers etc. But a large part of my day isn’t creative at all – it’s the stuff that all small business owners contend with – lawyers, insurance, accountants and daily.

LR: What do you think the greatest threat is to women right now in this country?

JR: Reproductive rights. Without question. Denying women agency is a goal of the GOP and it opens the door to economic oppression, abuse, so many things.

LR: Were you always a Feminist? Did your parents play a big part in that growing up?

JR: I was always a very strong female – but I don’t think I discovered true feminism until I was older and had experienced all the things in terms of sexism, inequality and the like that make feminism so important.  That said, my parents truly raised me to be a feminist even if they didn’t use that word. When I was nine years old, my mother (a Swedish national) took me to march on DC for the ERA and my father, an executive, always championed me and told me that there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do as well as men.

LR: When you’re not slaying dragons and defending democracy, what do you like to do in your spare time?

JR: Sleep and resist? I actually clean my house to relax or organize closets.  I try to catch up on reading. And of course, spend as much time with my two dogs as possible.

You can follow and subscribe to DAME online at www.DameMagazine.com. on their Facebook page here, or on Twitter at @DameMagazine

Dame Magazine _Lipstick-Republic blog