Privilege v. Entitlement

meowser-48.jpg posted by meowser

Unfortunately, much of the discussion of privilege focuses around shaming those who are perceived to have it, rather than trying to strategize about how to empower those who may not. – Octogalore, “Entitlement”

Even before the latest dustup, I wanted to write about privilege versus entitlement (that is, a feeling of entitlement). So what better time than now, since we’re sick of it already?

Octogalore’s post is an old one, but she made me think about some things that I think sometimes get lost in discussions of privilege. Namely, that feeling entitled to success (i.e. what you want out of life) is something that isn’t so neatly distributed along “privileged”/”not privileged” lines. Some people with fewer advantages on paper experience more feelings of entitlement, and some people who seem to have more advantages are held back by the feeling that they not only don’t deserve success, but actually deserve abuse. (I’m not going to claim that everyone who is abused believes they deserve abuse, but it’s a pretty safe bet that everyone who thinks they deserve abuse is bound to get plenty of it.)

How much entitlement you feel, in fact, probably doesn’t come down to a formula of any kind, but a lot depends on upbringing, environment, neurobiology, and how all those things cook together over the years. Like Octo says, too much entitlement can curdle into arrogance, which can not only make an intractable pain in the ass of you, but it can actually backfire when it comes to getting what you want (e.g. you think the traffic laws, metaphorical and actual, don’t apply to you because you rule). Does feeling entitled to success trump privilege? I don’t think so, and Octo doesn’t either. (Seriously, that post is amazing, I highly recommend it.) In fact, privilege often reinforces entitlement; if you expect characteristic X to help you in the future because it has in the past, you are less likely to sandbag your future efforts because you don’t want to deal with the roadblocks. (“Why bother applying for that job? They won’t like me.”)

Do I think it’s possible to accomplish things even if you think you’re a useless dirtbag? Yeah, I do. But I’m going to guess that people who succeed despite feeling little or no entitlement don’t enjoy it a whole lot. And aside from relief to have survived, can anything beyond that be considered “success” if you don’t really enjoy it?

I have always had a serious entitlement deficit. Okay, that’s an understatement; I have had serious problems my whole life maintaining a feeling that I deserved to exist. In fact, the way I found fat acceptance, as I’ve said before, was that my therapist in the mid-’90s recommended I get myself a book on self-esteem, figuring I’d live longer if I actually had some. And I wound up with this one. I’d heard of FA principles before, but post medication weight gain, what Carol Johnson said just made way too much sense. “No, it really IS totally illogical to discriminate against people because of their weight! Yes, it really IS about more than calories calories calories! Yes, I really SHOULD dump the boyfriend who’s been acting like I’m corroded because of my newly Zoloft-padded tush!” I had to be feeling at least some sense of entitlement to get that message, yes? I believed, at last, that I was entitled to eat what I was hungry for, to not weigh myself, to actually live and pursue the goals that were important to me, whether I lost an ounce or not.

This was seismic. We all know that most fat people don’t feel entitled to those things, right? (And probably even more so in 1996, when I bought the book, than now that there’s a Fatosphere and everything.) So you’d think that acceptance of my outsides would soon lead to feeling more entitlement about my insides — in other words, that who I was on the inside deserved my respect as much as my outsides did, that I should feel perfectly free to go after exactly what I wanted in life.

Hooboy would you ever be mistaken about that.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I didn’t have to deal any longer with hating myself for being fat on top of hating myself for everything else. That combination might have killed me. But I still could not, for the life of me, figure out why I did or said certain things the way I did, why people just stopped talking to me and told me “you should know, everyone knows” when I asked what the problem was, why I kept getting booted out of homes, jobs, lives, so unceremoniously. Here’s where neurotypical unprivilege comes in and how complicated that can be, folks. Until two years ago, I didn’t have the privilege of having a diagnosis of Asperger’s, partly because such a diagnosis didn’t exist until 1994, and partly because none of the shrinks I saw after that knew jackall about it. So all I could think was what’s wrong with me? what’s wrong with me? what’s wrong with me? on an endless goddamn repeating loop. When you feel that way, you don’t persevere through rejections; you get one rejection, or maybe two if you’re feeling feisty, and then go hide under the bed for a few years, until the pain of not having what you want becomes so severe you try again, and it’s the same damn thing all over. They said no. That proves I suck.

Maybe self-esteem is privilege too, in a way.

Believe me, I’m not going to be all smug about understanding the whole privilege issue better than some people do. I had a terrible time with it, actually. Because I didn’t have a handle on my basic right to exist, when I first started reading about it, it sent me into a terrible downward spiral. How can having privilege not make me a bad person? If I’m costing other people their safety and health and dignity just because I exist, doesn’t that make me a murderer and a thief? I really did believe I deserved to die over that, all because of my belief that life had to be a zero-sum game where one person gets to live and one gets to die and the one who had to die should be me, that nothing could possibly change to distribute things more equitably unless I took my own life. That way, there’d be one less useless white body in the world, right? It would make white people that much less of a majority, right? Yes, I actually did go there, and the fucked-up thing about it was that I knew how fucked up it was to have that reaction, and that just made me feel that much worse.

Mine was an extreme and wildly inappropriate response, I’ll admit, and I’m pretty sure it’s rare for anyone to actually think that way. (My psychiatrist, when I first presented to him, had no trouble confirming my therapist’s diagnosis of Asperger’s, on the grounds that “your depression pattern is extremely atypical.”) But if that episode taught me anything, it’s that ideas can go through people’s filters in a way you can’t necessarily control from the outside. I can see where the defensiveness about privilege comes from; it’s about the belief that there have to be winners and losers at everything, and if you’re not one of the winners who has an advantage over someone else (earned or not), you have to be the loser, and in America being tagged a loser can cost you everything, including your life. Is this a matter of too much entitlement, or not enough? I think it’s a little of each; maybe you feel entitled to your own comfort, but not entitled to a world where you don’t have to be scared to fucking death of losing it for no good reason.

I think I’ll let Octo have the last word here:

At any rate, it strikes me that the endless carping about privilege is mostly for the benefit of the privileged. It allows a shame solution to a problem that really isn’t about whether or not the relatively privileged shamed person takes pride in herself. And therefore lets her off the hook easily, for the price of a mea culpa. Well, fuck that. It’s not that easy.

Fuckin’ A. Okay, I lied, the last word is MINE MINE MINE! Because it’s my blog, and I’m entitled.

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35 Responses to “Privilege v. Entitlement”

  1. lindsaybits Says:

    But I still could not, for the life of me, figure out why I did or said certain things the way I did, why people just stopped talking to me and told me “you should know, everyone knows” when I asked what the problem was

    See, it’s stuff like THIS that makes me think i need to get someone to test/check/whatever me for autism spectrum stuff. You just described the first 25 years of my life. And the only reason it doesn’t describe the last decade or so is that i’ve so effectively shut most people out that the only ones left are the ones who are NOT going to Just Leave Like That.

    Totally unrelated, i know. So, related: awesome post. I will probably have to come back at a less early/late hour for a re-read so i can hopefully provide more coherent feedback.

  2. wriggles Says:

    I’ve run into problems with the use of the privilege concept, specifically in terms of thin.

    So although I recognise it as a potentially uselful learning aid if you like, it can be misapplied and then it’s downside comes to the fore.

    That was actually my first thought about it, I encountered it through, ‘check your privilege’ slapdown, I remember thinking, what’s wrong with invoking common courtesy? (And displaying it yourself)

    That last paragraph you quoted touches on the essence of my wariness, there can be an element of vainity in that it can turn the ‘privileged’ into powerful Lord and Lady Bountifuls, here to relieve the benighted… etc

    And that is liable to cause more rage down the line, as it not neccesarily in their power to deliver, what people want.

    It’s a bit like the pretense that dieting works, we all to some degree invested in it way past wisdom, because it’s seductive to pretend the powerful can solve all our problems. It’s a hope dodge, a way of maintaining hope whilst avoiding certain other lines of enquiry.

    In the end, the privilege show is really of the master’s tools skool, it uses what is used to sideline the less powerful to reverse or equalise things, it therefore has the same inherent defects.

  3. Ruth Says:

    Meowser,

    I’m glad you’ve made such progress through some very painful realities.

    I, too, have a big unworthiness bias (along with an “everything bad that happens is somehow my fault” delusion).

    Obviously, someone like you (or like me) would not be inclined to gloat about our un-earned privilege (if self-esteem is a privilege, sounds like yours has been hard won).

    Just wanted to throw that in the mix.

    Excellent post. I feel like I know you better.

  4. Trabb's Boy Says:

    Meowser, as always, your post touched me in so many ways. I have suffered from depression for years, and even with the Effexor spend plenty of time feeling like I should just do the world a favor. Sick as it sounds, it really means a lot to hear I’m not the only one. It’s a bit more weight on the argument that it is the depression, not the truth.

    Then the Asperger’s thing. My daughter was diagnosed with it, but “just dipping her toes in the autism spectrum,” which means that A) she’s not eligible for any services and B) my husband, who is NT with shadow traits, refuses to tell her or her teachers or anyone about it. Seeing your frustrations with not knowing confirms by sense that it’s better to be open about the whole thing. I suspect when she hits adolescence (she’s 10 now) will be when she starts to really feel “different,” but I wish it could be something she was aware of and comfortable with before that happens.

    And your comments about privilege/entitlement are very smart. It is so much easier to feel guilty and consider yourself absolved rather than actually doing something about a problem. Guilt is a pointless emotion except as a spur to change action. It’s even better if you can go straight to the action and skip the guilt part altogether.

    Thanks for the whole post, really.

  5. Bianca Says:

    Thanks for the link. I really liked both posts. It’s given me a lot to think about.

  6. Miriam Heddy Says:

    A lot of people don’t get the part about privilege being invisible, but that’s where, I think, entitlement comes in. If you have white privilege, you feel entitled to drive down the street without incident, so long as you’re following the laws. If you’re black, you know you’re likely to get stopped for driving while black, so you know that following the driving laws won’t protect you. You know you don’t have “title” or ownership to the streets because institutional racism makes it so–gives title to the streets to white drivers.

    So that’s the way I tend to think of it. “Check your privilege” is another way of saying, “What would shock/outrage you? What kind of good treatment do you expect? Why do you expect that?”

    As you note, mental illness is one of the things that distort our sense of our own privilege. Mental illness can cause us to not recognize institutional, systemic imbalances by making us, for instance, think we’re worth nothing even when we are still have privilege, institutionally-speaking. Part of cognitive behavioral therapy involves trying to get back in touch with real cause and effect, after all, and finding our place in the world again.

    That’s where intersectionality comes in, in allowing us to recognize that one can, for example, be white and have depression and, in a society that discriminates against those with mental illness, one can suffer for that depression even as one still retains white privilege.

    I like what Octogalore says when she writes:
    “Privilege, after all, is immutable at its source. Entitlement, along with its friends, perspiration and inspiration, is where the changes can happen.”

    In education, we know that stereotype threat can function to obscure our own potential and sense of entitlement. If someone reminds us, right before a test, that women do more poorly on math, we’re actually likely to do more poorly than we might have without that reminder. So we can totally psyche ourselves out.

    But all too often, when people talk about all this, they end up arguing for bootstrapping and ignoring systemic, institutional factors entirely and saying, “Anything is possible! You just have to believe it! All this talk about racism is just a way of keeping people from trying!”

    And that is the myth of meritocracy, and it’s a compelling myth, but wrong just the same (and it’s the kind of thing that galls me whether people talk about racism or fattism, because no–I can’t make the world a better place just by pretending that nobody else thinks bad thoughts about fat people. Just… no.)

    Anyway–long-winded me appreciates your post.

  7. Mhorag Says:

    The opening quote from Octogalore for this post really struck home for me, and your post clarified it even more.

    I’m so tired of feeling shame for being:

    White
    Able-bodied
    Cis-gendered
    Able-minded
    Straight
    (Fill in your favorite privilege)

    That I just stay out of privilege conversations. I would love to be able to help everyone enjoy all the opportunities that my privilege gives me, but being shamed for that privilege doesn’t make me want to learn how or even be involved anymore. I’ve worked long and hard to get past the shame of daring to exist (oh, how that rang true!), and I won’t be dragged back there by anyone who thinks I should be ashamed for things *I can’t change*.

    (deep breath)

    Thanks for letting me rant. And keep writing! This is great stuff.

    • littlem Says:

      *deep breath*

      May I be so bold as to ask where, specifically, you feel you are getting the message that you should be feeling shame?

      Have you been really honest with yourself as to whether it’s someone else trying to shame you?

      Or perhaps whether the message “you should be ashamed” is *not* being generated externally, but, rather, internally (especially since you seem to have already observed yourself doing that)?

      Because, really, if one is interested in the work of access and eradicating barriers — and I mean really actively interested — “being ashamed” isn’t really useful at all.

      There are other people much more articulate than I on this subject, so I’ll defer to their delineations .

      • Mhorag Says:

        Where am I *specifically* getting the message I should be feeling shame?

        How about the people who are *not* able-bodied, able-minded, cis-gendered, straight, or white? Like, because I *am* all those things (none of which I have any control over) I *can’t possibly understand* what it means to be denied opportunities over things you can’t change? I admit I’m ignorant, but I *want to learn*.

        I have been *shamed* on blogs (Feministe, for one) for daring to reach out to someone without my *privileges* because I thought we shared *similar* unpleasant experiences whereby we could connect and work together to try and eliminate such experiences for *everybody* (regardless of race, class, gender, etc.).

        Guess I found out different. Silly me, wanting everyone to share in the opportunities granted me by my *privilege.*

        (deep breath)

        (deep breath)

        Okay, rant over.

        I hope that gives something of an explanation for my strong reaction.

    • littlem Says:

      I admit I’m ignorant, but I *want to learn*.

      Hmmm.
      That *is* why I took the time to put the links there.

      But perhaps you felt your rant was so important you couldn’t be bothered to read what was in them?

      • Mhorag Says:

        And the defense rests.

        Thank you for shaming me.

        Bye.

      • littlem Says:

        Well. That response certainly makes this

        “I *want to learn*”

        sound more than a little hollow.

      • SweetAsCake Says:

        You asked her a question, and she answered it.

        Shame may not be the idea behind the discussion of privilege, but the fact that so many people use the term in order to shame people. Did you read her whole post, or just the “I want to learn” part? I don’t know if she clicked on your links or not, but considering that one was full of hate speech, and another was basically one white woman calling another names without even really bothering to explain her position, and the third basically just attacks white women for “derailing” conversations about racism by whining about their feeeeeelings, I doubt they would have helped her “learn”, but rather been perceived (as they were probably intended) as evidence that she is out of line for even asking.
        Do you think what she described on Feministe was a case of people using the concept of privilege in a constructive way? “Privileged” people are not allowed to sympathize with anyone who doesn’t share their privilege over a mutual experience? Now, I didn’t see the discussion in question, and there might be (probably are) other things going on there, but Mhorag apparently got the impression that she was expected to be ashamed of herself. Your response kind of sidesteps that. DO you think acknowledging privilege amounts to being ashamed of oneself? Or do you feel that every use of the term “privilege” floating around the internet is correct, never misleading, never used as a bludgeon for the ignorant?
        .

    • littlem Says:

      I will also reiterate — not, I’m beginning to suspect, that this is only the first or second time you’ve heard it — that there is a difference between being ashamed (which, I will also repeat with emphasis,*no one is asking for*) and someone shaming you.

      What I’m hearing from you sounds a lot like “that person made me so mad I had to hit him/her”.

      There is also a difference between examining privilege and being ashamed of it.

      (At this point, I’m just curious — did you even read what was in the links?)

  8. wellroundedtype2 Says:

    Very thought provoking post, as usual.
    I think there can be a difference between awareness of privilege and guilt/shame about it — but maybe there are some feelings that people who respond in an empathetic way will experience as part of the process, I think the important part is not to get stuck in those feelings. For me, thinking about the other person’s perspective is a way to not get stuck. But with depression and other wonky brain stuff, that can interfere.
    I’m working on my cis-gendered perspective. There’s someone I work with who presents herself as female but also appears to be in transition. I sometimes am not sure how to interact with her. Yesterday, I told her I really liked her dress. We chatted about shopping for a second — she likes thrift stores, I like discount stores. I did say something I wasn’t thrilled about — that I don’t shop at thrift shops because it takes too much time. She agreed, you have to look at everything. I didn’t say the reason I don’t have enough time to comb through all of the racks — my rambunctuous 4.5 year old — Meowser, can you imagine thrift shopping with SuperHeroPrincess in tow — that sounds like hell to me.
    I didn’t launch into how hard it is to find plus-sized clothes — she’s quite tall and thin — recognizing how my cis-gendered privilege is really quite different from her thin privilege in this instance. I could actually feel myself getting more mature in the moment. I don’t say this to pat myself on the back, but just as an example of how instead of focusing on myself and my problems, I thought about the other woman in this situation and didn’t say something that might create distance, as real my experience is. We haven’t had many opportunities to interact yet as we work in different parts of the organization, but I suppose I could see if she wanted to go to a nearby thrift shop at lunch — I could hand her the size 6s and she could hand me the size 20s.

    There’s much more to say.. but SHP is waking up now!

    • littlem Says:

      “I think there can be a difference between awareness of privilege and guilt/shame about it — but maybe there are some feelings that people who respond in an empathetic way will experience as part of the process, I think the important part is not to get stuck in those feelings.

      For me, thinking about the other person’s perspective is a way to not get stuck.

      That.

  9. Meowser Says:

    Lindsaybits: Here is a list of current diagnostic criteria for autism, Asperger’s, PDD-NOS, Rett’s, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. See if any of it rings a bell for you.

    TrabbsBoy: Yes, I do hope your husband will reconsider telling your daughter she’s aspie. How much she wants to reveal to other people, and how, and which people, is something she will spend her entire life thinking about. Ten is not too young to start!

    MiriamHeddy: Yeah, I rarely see discussion of what’s mutable at the individual level (entitlement, perspiration, inspiration) versus what isn’t (privilege, luck) and how they work together. Which is why I loved Octo’s post so much.

    WRT2: If you can thrift shop with SHP in tow, I will know for sure you are Superwoman. 😛

    Ruth: I guess I was thinking of self-esteem that doesn’t have to be fought tooth and nail for as a “privilege,” although of course I had enough privilege to get the help I needed to heal. That’s no small thing.

    Wriggles, Mhorag: Thanks! (Thanks to all of you, actually.)

    • meowser Says:

      (Including Bianca, who I found after going through the spamtrap, and littlem. I keep forgetting about the spamtrap and nested comments thing when I do a “blanket reply” to comments.)

  10. meerkat Says:

    I’m still reeling from the lack of “luck” in Octagon’s formula for success, so it was hard to absorb anything after that in her post. So if you’re on the poor, mediocre-looking side and not as successful as someone else equally poor and mediocre-looking, there’s no luck involved, you just didn’t think you deserved it enough, or else didn’t work hard enough (i.e. you are a lazy bum)? I suppose inspiration is a form of luck but I think there are others as well, even in the field of invention. (You didn’t quote that part but since the post was years old I didn’t want to comment on it directly.)

    Entitlement as a good thing is an interesting idea though, which I don’t think I have heard of before. I relate to a lot of what you say here, although I don’t think I’m Asperger’s enough to get a diagnosis (that is, nearly but not quite Asperger’s). I can’t figure out if I have too much entitlement or not enough. Probably both.

  11. occhiblu Says:

    I actually think the guilt reactions are a defense against admitting the world is an unjust place.

    Which fits in, I think, with your ideas about entitlement; I think that if we’re faced with the reality that the world is arbitrary and unfair, we often either blame ourselves or blame other people as a way of reasserting control: “If it’s my fault, then I may be worthless, but at least I have some degree of control over what’s happening” or “If I blame others, then I cede some degree of control, but at least someone is in charge and responsible.”

    So people get caught up in blame/guilt reactions when faced with the idea that (as Miriam Heddy points out) we don’t live in a meritocracy where everyone’s station in life is a direct reflection of their inner worth, because it’s scary to admit that we don’t have as much control over our lives as we’d like to think, that some things are accidents of birth or due to gigantic systems that are not within our individual power to change.

    I think once people accept that the universe can be arbitrary and that that’s ok, then the guilt and blame tend to fade a bit. But that’s a big thing to accept, and it requires a fair amount of ego strength.

    • Rosa Says:

      or, that the universe can be arbitrary, and we’re powerless over that…but some things we aren’t powerless over, and we need to see those places and work on them. I agree that guilt reactions are a defense – we can just say “okay, I feel bad, that’s all I need to do, right?”

      It’s like the egalitarian version of the Serenity Prayer:

      You aren’t responsible for your privileges, but you’re responsible for what you do with them. Learn the difference.

      I do think entitlement is one of those things that’s not distributed equally – one of the hardest parts of solidarity work is encouraging people to remember they deserve just as much as everyone else (such as: it’s OK to wish the free food tasted better. You don’t have to be so lucky to be here that you accept bad treatment.).

  12. hsofia Says:

    I have a ton of privilege (and have often been described by friends and family as “lucky”) and have never felt ashamed of it. I have a hard time understanding WHY people feel shame over being white, cisgendered, straight, moneyed. Maybe “occhiblu” is on the right track, though. Because I have never felt that the world is fair. Good things happen to bad people, bad things happen to “good” people and … as an atheist, I don’t believe it’s all happening “for a reason” or that in a next life we all get what we truly deserved.

    Life is what it is. Throughout life we have or don’t have certain advantages – like a functional family, or unconditional love, or enough food to eat, or safety and security, or an education, or the sense that this world is a place that is WAITING for you to be actualized.

    I have as much ego as the next person, and I know I’ve made some tough choices that helped me to be in a better position than some people, but I also know that a lot of what I have (not just material things, but emotional strength) is not due to my own actions. So there is no shame about what I do have. I don’t really feel entitled to what I have. I have met people who are out there literally killing themselves to change the world for the better, and I have more money in my checking account than they do. I am physically healthier than they are. How is that fair? How did I “earn” or “deserve” that?

    I feel like I have more to say, but need to collect my thoughts a bit.

  13. littlem Says:

    Wow.
    Some post. 🙂

  14. Emerald Says:

    Meowser, thanks for this post.

    I’ve spent about the last year and a half finding out about Aspergers and becoming more and more certain that my lifelong experience of not being able to fit in with people, and not being able to fathom out why, might actually have an explanation. (I’m currently mulling over the technicalities of getting a formal diagnosis – I’m in the UK, and getting an adult diagnosis isn’t straightforward here – and what the future implications for work, insurance and my other future plans might be.)

    The worst of it is that from piecing things together about my life and my memories of childhood, I’m pretty sure that while nobody in the 70s knew about Aspergers, my teachers, at least, did suspect I might have some kind of developmental issues – but my family always just saw me as a ‘problem child’ who just needed extra discipline to make me ‘normal’. Which for them meant treating me like I was utterly bad and wrong for behaviors I couldn’t help (not being ‘feminine’ enough in various ways had a lot to do with it). The message in my own head ended up being, very roughly: _If I can’t be the way people want me to be, I shouldn’t exist at all._ It wasn’t until I was actually in recovery from the most recent bout of depression, about five years ago now, that I realized I’d been thinking that way at all, and it was pretty scary coming face to face with that.

    I’m still getting my head round the idea of entitlement, but I’ve reached the point where I find the feeling of guilt for living my life as I want without ‘earning’ it somehow is largely being replaced by anger at those who still insist that love, respect, fair treatment and the rest _have_ to be ‘earned’ in any way, by anyone. Which I think has to be a positive step.

    And yes, those who mentioned it, dumb luck (good or bad) has more influence in most people’s lives than they like to think. An American friend of mine (and I admitted to him that I don’t blame America for this notion, because it’s also pretty common here in the UK) said that this is the big problem with the ‘American dream’ – the flipside of the notion that ‘anyone can make it if they work hard enough’ is ‘anyone who doesn’t is a lazy bum’. Believing there’s nothing you can’t change by your own efforts is ignoring the fact that sometimes, shit really does just happen. (This is the absolute random shit, not the stuff that’s down to unjust systems and assumptions that we can and should be working on changing. Point is, the random shit will always happen anyway.)

  15. meowser Says:

    I think someone raised the issue of “luck” being part of the formula with Octo in the comments, and she agreed that it was an oversight (I think she saw privilege and luck as being intertwined, not that luck itself doesn’t exist).

    But she was writing about the stuff that was mutable at the individual source — which entitlement is, and luck isn’t. I can feel entitled to write an entire book of my own and make it as good as I can; that’s not enough to get it published for money, but it’s enough to begin creating a body of work that I can take pride in. Beats feeling like I haven’t accomplished a damn thing, lemme tell ya.

    I think the important part is not to get stuck in those feelings.

    For me, thinking about the other person’s perspective is a way to not get stuck.

    See, when I was in the shit, I had exactly the opposite problem. I knew it was a good idea in theory not to make it all about me me me, but the more I thought about other people, the more inferior I felt. Everyone else is so honest and hardworking and has their neuroses under control, I am just made of ass! I really should die, and I’m a coward not to!

    I am sure this has to do with the fact that my reality had been denied for decades and I was used to thinking of myself as someone who had repeatedly and spectacularly failed normalcy, rather than someone who was just wired differently and had to learn to work with that instead of against that. In the end, it took the Evil Brain Drugs of Doom to plug that hole in my noggin.

  16. smmo Says:

    I’ve long lurked here and admired your writing meowser and I’ve gotta say, I was shocked to see Octogalore linked here. She is no friend to the FA movement or health care reform.

    That said, it remains an interesting post. I think it is important to acknowledge unearned privilege and it will never not rankle me when that is conflated with shame. Or, as said above, you don’t get stuck in the feelings.

    Maybe self-esteem is privilege too, in a way.

    I think that’s a right, or it should be. Or maybe luck of the draw? It would seem to be easier to achieve with the “right” attributes (of race, gender, class) but we’ve all seen the opposite. The person who appears to “have it all” and feels like shit. I will say that if a person has medical issues that cause them to lack self esteem having that treated IS a class/privilege issue.

    From a comment:

    But all too often, when people talk about all this, they end up arguing for bootstrapping and ignoring systemic, institutional factors entirely and saying, “Anything is possible! You just have to believe it! All this talk about racism is just a way of keeping people from trying!”

    And that is the myth of meritocracy, and it’s a compelling myth, but wrong just the same (and it’s the kind of thing that galls me whether people talk about racism or fattism, because no–I can’t make the world a better place just by pretending that nobody else thinks bad thoughts about fat people. Just… no.)

    Yes and reminds me I need to get Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book exposing the positive thinking “secret” “it’s really all YOUR” fault meme.

  17. smmo Says:

    PS:

    meowser’s comment:
    But she was writing about the stuff that was mutable at the individual source — which entitlement is, and luck isn’t. I can feel entitled to write an entire book of my own and make it as good as I can; that’s not enough to get it published for money, but it’s enough to begin creating a body of work that I can take pride in. Beats feeling like I haven’t accomplished a damn thing, lemme tell ya.

    This is SO important. The personal IS political, right there.

  18. meowser Says:

    I’ve gotta say, I was shocked to see Octogalore linked here. She is no friend to the FA movement or health care reform.

    I wasn’t aware that she was anti-healthcare reform or anti-FA. Care to elaborate?

  19. smmo Says:

    Re HCR, McCain voter, fiscal conservative, you do the math. Re FA, well, here’s the post and comment thread that led me to stop reading/commenting on her blog:

    http://octogalore.blogspot.com/2009/03/arms.html

  20. A murderer and a thief « Sanabitur Anima Mea Says:

    […] Spirituality, Submission, Theft, Wallowing, White Guilt, White Privilege, Whiteness From Meowser’s blog: Believe me, I’m not going to be all smug about understanding the whole privilege issue better […]

  21. sanabituranima Says:

    Audre Lorde had something to say about this:

    “Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change it can be useful, since it is then no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge. Yet all too often, guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensiveness and destructive communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things as they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness. – From the essay “The uses of anger” in the book “Sister Outsider”

    The trouble is my reaction to that.
    1. Omg! My guilt is just a way to hide!
    2. Wow! That’s really horrible.
    3. I don’t want to face up to how horrible that is.
    4. I must hide bhind that with some more guilt!
    5. Oh no! I’m hiding again! That’s evil!
    6. Repeat steps 3-6.

    And infinitely recursive loop of cowardice…

  22. sanabituranima Says:

    4. Should read “hide from” not “hide behind”

  23. Star Says:

    I know this comment is over two months late, but I have to say this–what you wrote about your initial reaction to learning about privilege describes my current situation EXACTLY, right down to the acceptance of my weight but not my basic right to live. The only thing that’s really different is my age and lack of Asperger’s. (Which, oddly enough, my older sister has been diagnosed with since the early 90’s. I’m guessing it’s just a strange coincidence, but it’d be interesting if there is some correlation.)

    On and off for the past week or so, I’ve been feeling like I don’t deserve to live because I have white and able and cisgender privileges, believing that I’m hurting those who are less-privileged simply by existing. That ended up combining with a few other recurring guilty feelings over societal injustices; all in all it was making me feel like a horrible person who should just do society a favor and go jump into traffic.

    And I knew this was not right, and it was just my depression once again being an untreated little monster, so on a whim I Googled for “white privilege and depression” and wound up here. I felt like I was reading my own words in another person’s blog. And I don’t know what else to say other than thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for posting this. It means worlds to me to know that I’m not alone, and that what I’ve been feeling isn’t just my own unique brand of crazy.

    This is actually making me seriously reconsider my decision to not seek counseling. (I’ve been telling myself, “What do we need counseling for? We’re fine! Plus, we don’t want to waste any counselor’s valuable time, not when there are people with REAL problems…” Fortunately that train of thought is raising some alarm bells now.) Once again, thank you. This has helped me tremendously.

  24. frigatebird Says:

    Oh my god.

    Thank you.

    I found this post after literally hours of frantic Googling, as I was just about to give in (again) to the “I’ve got to work through this myself” vicious cycle of self-deprecation. Of course, it’s a four-year-old post on a blog that hasn’t been updated since May, but if you do still check your comments– I really hope you do, however improbable– I hope you know how much this post meant to me. Finally, after at least three years of using what I read in the anti-racist blogosphere as internally-directed cannon fodder, your post kindled an actual desire for me to go seek out professional treatment. A question: how did you broach the topic with your therapist? I’ve never gone for therapy before.

    Three years ago I found anti-racist blogs at a pretty low point in my mental health record. It was the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college, and I was unemployed with virtually no job experience during the height of the Recession. I was also struggling with accepting that I was gay, and realizing that I’d had a hopeless, pitiful crush on my best friend since middle school didn’t help the matter along. Typical young adulthood stuff, right? Well, after some reading I’d done on the internet about gay rights and feminism, I came upon the anti-racist blogosphere. Of course I had a hard time owning up to my white privilege. Of course I was defensive. Who isn’t? I even made a few scattered comments here and there, and was called out maybe once or twice on stupid shit I said (after one incident of justified dog-piling I stopped commenting altogether). But as I gained a deeper understanding of the fucked-up state of racial relations, worked on owning my white privilege, and slowly moved beyond the 101-level Tim Wise/Peggy Macintosh stuff, my inner voice grew stronger and more self-destructive.

    In the beginning of this mess, I shared the defiant sentiment of white privilege-denying assholes everywhere: “Wouldn’t it just be better if white people just killed themselves, huh? I mean, we just can’t win!” So I dismissed the nagging little voice in my head as mere histrionics and pearl-clutching when, two years after first reading the word “white privilege,” the vague thoughts appeared that maybe it *would* be better for everyone if somebody ran a red light at high speed and plowed into my family’s car, for instance. Instead of telling anybody about these thoughts I went back to the internet, back to the blogs, and read about White Women’s Tears and how “it’s not about you,” staving off those thoughts with more guilt and self-hate until they came back. Rinse and repeat.

    I began to genuinely believe that my voice and achievements didn’t matter anywhere, because who needs another cis white woman’s opinion on anything, even if it’s about fossilized plankton or the wacky dream I had last night. And worse, my identity was meaningless to me beyond the fact that I was cis and white and middle-class and American and able-bodied. I deserved nothing. It was a constant hum in my head that I was a worthless, despicable human being, and that I was even worse for even feeling that way.

    A few months ago, and every so often since, my girlfriend suggested I should stop reading the blogs. But I also knew that whatever emotions we as white people have, POC have it way worse and they can’t just take a break from racism. I thought about counseling. But that was an even bigger dilemma. What if I have a white counselor who knows nothing about racism and white privilege? I can’t make her understand! And worse, a POC counselor… I would hurt them!

    Then I found this post. I re-read it three times. As I laid in bed trying to sleep, I thought more about it and realized I’ve probably been depressed for years. It made sense! The feeling that the world is behind a thick pane of glass; my intrusive feelings of worthlessness; the fewer and fewer times I’ve been truly happy; that I’ve stopped really enjoying pretty much anything at the level I used to; and a whole host of other things that sound like textbook depression. My “atypical” reaction to anti-racism fell into place. I need help, and it’s okay to seek it. Every human on Earth is entitled to the basic right of emotional well-being. Just because there are starving people in the world doesn’t mean that I should live without food.

    (And yet, as good as it feels to be writing this, my inner voice keeps saying “Aww, poor wittle white girl has her fee-fees hurt!” and “This is exactly what’s wrong with modern western society: pathologizing a normal guilty conscience!”)

    TL;DR: Thank you. Thank you so much. Maybe I can feel whole again.


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