Oh yes, it happened again. There I was, driving along a tree-lined snowy road, listening to NPR when Class Privilege reached up from under my sweater and smacked me in the face.
“Ye of the professional class, pay attention to this! Cause you have been missing it.”
I am so happy to have a working relationship with my Privileges: Race, Class, and Ability/Body. Without this strong bond, I would have to rely on other people to call me in on blissful privileged ignorance and that, in addition to placing undue strain on others, is woefully inefficient.
So the slight ego bruise notwithstanding, I was delighted at the smack.
I’m going to do my best to unpack the moment, but remember, this is an area of privilege for me so I may still miss something.
I tuned in to NPR when they were in the middle of a story. It related to the 2016 Presidential election (what doesn’t these days?) and had something to do with voting patterns and privileged perspectives of certain candidates (or possibly the whole democratic party… I didn’t quite catch the context). What I did catch was a statement about working class white people being fed up with professional class white people telling them they are privileged when they are having a hard time finding jobs, paying the bills, or seeing themselves represented in government.
SMACK! POW! Ouch.
In that sudden smack, I knew without using words that I had a privileged perspective regarding the topic of privilege. While I understand intersections of privilege and oppression and the ways we might examine such a thing, I had not brought that cognitive knowing into my daily discourse on white privilege.
Let me see if I can articulate this right-brain, non-verbal understanding that is floating around in my consciousness:
Systems of Oppression
Systems of oppression are top-down processes that begin with the ideology of an elite class and end with squashed dreams, internalized hate, and opportunity deserts for the oppressed.
Social identity categories
I talk about privilege a lot in my everyday life. A lot, a lot. There is nary a corner of my life where I do not examine how my own privilege (and let’s be honest, the privilege of everyone around me) might be offering some majorly unearned benefits. I point it out. Yet this morning, as I heard the statement about white people who do NOT have class privilege, it occurred to me that I may have missed examination of this intersection:
Specifically, I tend to be ignorant of class oppression in the face of racial privilege. To me, white people have heaps of privilege… well, this isn’t just my opinion, it’s a fact. But white people who are poverty-stricken, working poor, or working class are also facing oppression at the hands of white people of the professional and owning classes. The NPR story noted that these people were tired of hearing professional/owning class people spouting their elitist jargon regarding white privilege.
I get it. The way to rally others towards inclusive thinking begins with validation of the ways they are oppressed. I suspect this is why so many “white men with no college” voted for Trumpywumpie Cheeto Head. They neither saw themselves benefiting from Senator Clinton’s policies nor even heard themselves represented in her discourse. To be clear, I got behind Hillary, but I also saw how her elite white feminist approach would be alienating to many groups of people. This is an ongoing issue in social justice movements: The marginalized elite (read: white, affluent…) pushing out even more marginalized subordinate classes (read: people of color, working classes…).
We see a clear example of this in the assimilation of cisgender gay and lesbian people into heteronormative values. I do not judge gays and lesbians who believe in those values and want to walk with them, but when those same gays and lesbians push queer and trans people out of the movement for being too freaky and ruining their chance at assimilation, well, then we have a problem.
Same thing happened with feminism. It was cisgender, whites only in its first and second waves which had to be challenged (and continues to be challenged) by women of color and trans women.
What am I taking away from this? I do not want to be another white member of the professional class telling people to examine their privilege before I examine how my own class privilege might be stomping all over my white neighbors. Therefore, I need to listen. I need to seek out experiences that take me outside of the elite professional class and into the working classes. Did I mention I need to listen? I need to hear how people are impacted by class oppression before I start with discussions of racial privilege.
For someone who makes inclusivity and diversity a focus of daily living, it is humbling to continue to encounter the privilege mirror. I suspect it will never end. I suspect understanding and fully internalizing systems of power and oppression will never be a box that I check, “done!”
May my Privileges continue to smack me in the face from now until forever. I offer gratitude for their tenacity.