Smacked in the Face with My Class Privilege

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.

Huh, what?

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.jpg

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

Dominant Group.jpg

Subordinate Group.png

My Social ID.jpg

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:

Race and class.jpg

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.

 

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Reflections on Invisibility

Despite my horror at the multi-ring circus called the 2016 Presidential Election, I am committed to seeing it through to the end and am therefore tuning in to the debates between Donald (who I affectionately refer to as Trumpiewumpie) and Senator Clinton. As if it wasn’t embarrassing enough to call oneself a United States citizen this century, we have now gifted the world’s stage with a reality-TV-show-style election. Sigh.

On Monday evening, Trumpiewumpie and Senator Clinton debated (can we even use that term?) the issues… or rather, Senator Clinton attempted to articulate her stance on national security, foreign trade, and racial tension while Trumpiewumpie sniffed, snorted, and made fish faces into the microphone. I am not a die-hard Clinton supporter (shout out to Bernie), but at least she has a modicum of decorum and poise and is undeniably intelligent and capable of being the Commander-in-Chief. And she deals with a heck of a lot of sexism, microaggressions, and discrimination. Hey Trumpiewumpie, if she has a face, she has a presidential look.

I am used to being invisible when it comes to our nation’s ideology. President Obama mentioned trans people for the first time ever in the 2015 State of the Union address, but it felt more like throwing us a bone than highlighting all the issues we face. I’m fairly certain most people on Capitol Hill don’t have a clue what non-binary means and if they do, they certainly wouldn’t acknowledge our existence. For today, I’m going to let that go. Cause watching the debate on Monday illuminated all the other people in this country who are invisible.

The two candidates were asked a question about the current tension between races in this country and both candidates responded as if African-Americans and Latinx were the only people of color in the United States. Trumpiewumpie referred to them as one group: “Africanamericanhispanics” and Senator Clinton fared only somewhat better by giving them their own and slightly less colonial labels: African-American and Latino. But if memory serves, neither candidate mentioned any other race (someone fact check me, please!).

Hmm, am I wrong in noticing that there are many, many races of people represented in United States citizenship? Aren’t there Chinese-Americans, Filipino-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Iranian-Americans, Korean-Americans and (gasp) NATIVE Americans (goddess forbid we mention the people whose land we stole and now reside on) etc…? Maybe I see people who aren’t really here like the kid in The Sixth Sense who sees dead people (I see racial minorities), but I’m fairly certain I’m not wrong about this. So why is it that when our politicians discuss race in the United States they only talk about Africanamericanhispanics?

It makes sense to some extent, considering the rampant killings of unarmed black men by police. There is definitely a major issue with the ways white supremacy specifically targets and discriminates against the black community and the candidates should address this, but when asked about the racial divide, shouldn’t they at least acknowledge that there are more than three races in this country?

Politicians, Senator Clinton and Trumpiewumpie included, perpetuate white supremacy when they fail to acknowledge their racial privilege. When a politician gets on stage and says, “I have racial privilege and therefore have many unearned opportunities because this nation was built on white supremacy” then I will be excited to vote. But wait, I WANT our country to change in ways that will actually create equality, not just give it a head nod and I’m guessing most white politicians want to retain their unearned white power soooo I suppose I will wait a long time before I hear the above phrase.

I shall save abelism, classism, and heteronormativity for another post.

So while my gender and sexual orientation are completely invisible at the ideological and institutional levels and nearly invisible at the interpersonal level (a barista just “ma’amed” me), there are plenty of people who are also invisible for other reasons. I have race, class, and ability privilege. I am represented in that regard.

“In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.”

-Toni Morrison