Op Ed

Takedown: Won’t Somebody Think of the Privileged?

I’ve been getting too angry at my computer screen lately, so this week’s takedown is something that made me burst out laughing when I saw it. I mean, sure, it’s still craptastic, and there is a lot to talk about, but – well, you’ll see. It’s funny.

Without further ado:


Because the person who created the graphic was, without a doubt, worried about the “original population” of Native Americans. Or, better yet, the original humans coming from Africa. Just kidding! They mention “original population” but what they mean is “privileged population.” You know. The people who have power, the ones lucky enough to be the default setting for laws, hiring practices, media focus, politics, social customs, education, and, well, everything. The people who don’t want to be reminded that such a thing as privilege exists, because when that happens, they have to accept that some of the things they think they have earned have come to them because of dumb luck.

Where this crapdate moves from laughably ignorant into dangerous is with the use of the words “respect” and “rights.” There is nothing about the “original population” that requires extra respect. The same amount of respect as anybody else, sure. But what the poster is saying is that the “original population” deserves more respect, more rights than everybody else. What the poster is saying is that equality is wrong – that there are certain people who should, by nature of their existence, be more highly regarded, and that they should have increased access to power in society.

The graphic suggests that increasing tolerance, accepting other people even if they are not part of your group, opening yourself up to the fact that differences exist, requires an intolerance of the majority group. It doesn’t work that way. Tolerance isn’t a zero-sum game. An increase in tolerance or acceptance on one side of the equation does not automatically lead to a decrease of acceptance on the other. What is a zero-sum game is equality. Increasing privilege for those at a disadvantage requires a decrease in privileges for those at an advantage, or, at the very least, a decrease in relative privilege.

Nobody has the right to arbitrary privilege. Nobody has the right to unequal access to power based on shape/size/color/first language/religion. Increased acceptance of others does not diminish the rights of the “original population” because privilege is not a right. And nobody is required to respect the privilege of others if that privilege is arbitrary.

It’s not fun to be accepting of others. It requires thoughtfulness, it requires critical thinking, it requires a willingness to take yourself down a notch or two. If we can just pretend that we are colorblind, or that there are no differences between the classes, if we can ignore the fact that women make 77% of what men do for the same job, or that minorities are more likely to be convicted of crimes against White people even if the evidence shows otherwise, or that thin people make $100,000 more over their lifetimes than fat people, we can feel assured in our own abilities and merits.

If nobody asks you to be “tolerant,” if nobody asks you to examine your own good fortune, you get to believe that it’s because you are awesome. I haven’t been convicted of a crime I didn’t commit – because I am awesome. All of the people on TV look like me because I am awesome. My political leaders, for the most part, look like me because I am awesome. All of the jokes that I make about people who are at a disadvantage are hilarious because I am awesome (and, side note: they are the opposite of awesome). My awesomeness earned me better grades than other people, my awesomeness got me a better salary, and if I get in a shoving match with somebody, my awesomeness will sway public opinion in my favor.

It’s really uncomfortable to have to challenge my own awesomeness. It’s really uncomfortable to believe that there are people out there who have the same merits as I do, but are treated differently for reasons other than awesomeness. I deserve everything I have, and every ease of society that I get to take advantage of, and every bit of power that comes my way happens because I earned it. With awesome.

And this is where the crapdate comes from: discomfort. Discomfort writ large, packaged in a convenient sharable form, and posted onto the Internet, where assholery abounds. But instead of raising a valid point, the crapdate poster is pretending like acceptance of minorities is code for discrimination against the majority. Please, they are saying. Please let me continue believing in my own awesomeness.

The “original population” that the poster is referring to encompasses specific qualities: Cisgender, able-bodied, thin, middle/upper class, heterosexual, White, male, and Christian. Many of us (myself included) fall into several of these categories, and recognizing and understanding privilege is something we do constantly, one of our weapons in the War on Assholery. However, there is a possibility of taking it a step farther, of pushing the limits and justifying a kernel of the emotion brought up by the graphic. This is most apparent to me with regards to religion – there are those who will find out a business is run by Christians and immediately turn up their nose, immediately make assumptions about that business plan. I have been guilty of this, at times, feeling myself stiffen up if I realize that a charity which I support is connected to a church. I have justified this, saying that there have been so many disgusting things done in the name of Christianity that I am uncomfortable with people flying that flag.

But that doesn’t make it right.

The crapdate is totally, 100%, laughably wrong. At the same time, it is a reminder to me that there is a difference between recognizing privilege, and making judgments about a person or organization because they are affiliated with that point of privilege. An organization that is doing good work is doing good work – even if it is primarily composed of cisgender, able-bodied, thin, middle/upper class, heterosexual, White, male Christians.

Is it ironic that I am ending this post about a graphic created by assholes with a note-to-self about not being an asshole? Maybe. Or maybe I’m just trying to prove the picture wrong.

By Susan

I am old and wise. Perhaps more old than wise, but once you're old, you don't give a shit about details anymore.

5 replies on “Takedown: Won’t Somebody Think of the Privileged?”

This reminds me of “Should you tolerate intolerance?” and “Is it a privilege to know you’re privileged?” People like to throw such stuff into the air but do not want to hear the answer. Offering it is enough in their world, ‘look at me being smart and social and interested about this stuff’ but shut it off whenever the answer is a bit too uncomfortably close to home.

To me, this is worse than people saying ‘LOL nope, not interested’. At least they’re honest and not pretending to care for their society and the people in it.

I grew up in a town on the border with Mexico, and it makes me laugh when people worry so much about respecting the privileged white people. I am as white as they come and have had many privileges awarded to me because of it, but I’ll be darned if I think my English-speaking white ass deserves any more respect than the Spanish-speaking not-so-white people I grew up with. Because where I grew up, many white people didn’t come until well after the spanish-speakers had settled there for years. Indeed, my part of the country is only in the USA due to some accidents of treaties and wars. We could very well have been a part of Mexico if things had worked out differently. In a country as large as the U.S., saying who is original and who is not is just a dumb game since someone was always here first.

This was a really interesting read. To a degree, I can appreciate some of the sentiment in the original graphic: “People who respect neither the culture nor the rights of the original population.” I realise you’re looking at this with respect to the US, but I can see some of the graphic’s sentiment echoing what people have been saying in the UK, in particular with regards to the increase in Islamic “presence”, as it were. There has been much discontent over the actions of some Muslims to not respect our culture or the rights we have enshrined in our “original population’s” laws. As I say, that’s deviating from the perspective you were looking at, but I do find it an interesting concept, as it were. Again, an interesting – and thought provoking – read.

I agree in that the second portion regarding respecting a native culture/society can be valid, such as when one is a visitor (or relocates) to another country and is expected to abide by their customs and rules. It’s one of those things that does swing both ways; one should learn enough of the native language to get by and should respect the ‘natives,’ as it were, but expect that there will be cultural and language differences that require a little effort on both sides.

I see what you’re saying.  I think there’s a fine line between “respect me because I was born here” and “respect the culture of your adopted country,” if that makes any sense.  I knew a lot of people in Ukraine who hated America and hated Americans but wanted to go there because of the opportunities, and that would make me really angry.  On the other hand, when people say “SPEAK ENGLISH” to immigrants it also makes me angry, partly because we have no official language, and partly because there is something much more sinister in it than just “respect the culture of your adopted country.”  It’s “assimilate or else.”  Which I really don’t like.

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