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Re: [OT] Terminology [was: Affecting Institutional Change (Yeah Right)]

On Fri, 11 May 2007 12:08:08 -0400
Amy Templeton <amy.g.templeton@gmail.com> wrote:

> Calejar wrote:
> > > Ron Johnson wrote:
> > > > There are those of us who believe that claims of
> > > > discrimination became trite many years ago.
> > > 
> > Amy Templeton wrote:
> > > I'm inclined to disagree; it is more subtle now, but it still
> > > exists. Do some reading on the concepts of privilege and
> > > intersectionality and if you don't buy it, we can talk more
> > > then (or if you do, either way).
> > 
> > Can you briefly explain the issues (preferably without jargon, so a
> > laymen can understand them) or at least provide link?
> Certainly!

Thanks very much for the detailed explanation, although I'm not sure I
understand or agree with everything you've said. 

> Privilege tends to be an especially tough one for a lot of people,
> because nobody really wants to acknowledge it. Basically, it's the
> idea that, based upon the "statuses" (sociologically speaking--so
> race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, etc.) people hold, some
> people start off, by default, in a better position than others. For
> example, a man doesn't have to worry as much as a woman does when
> walking down a dark alley in the big city at night, doesn't have to
> overcome a stigma associated with going into scientific and
> technological fields (in many places, girls are implicitly and
> explicitly told in school that they're "not as good" at these
> things and far too many accept this analysis unquestioningly), is
> allowed to be upset without "that time of the month" jokes, etc.
> These are just a few examples of "male privilege." Conversely, if a
> man cries he is in a position in which he could be thought less of
> by his peers--so there are some privileges men don't have, like
> access to certain forms of expression. Similarly, white people are
> well-established as "in charge" in, say, the corporate world.
> Although thanks to affirmative action there are now some (often
> tokenized) people of color in the upper echelons of some
> businesses, for the most part it is white people who gain
> promotions (not due to racism, but not necessarily due to
> differences in ability either). These are just a few examples...if
> you would care for more I could give you a more extensive and
> possibly better-written list at a later date, or point you to a
> citation for such a list.
> So, fine--this could be called a lot of things, if not for the
> defining aspect of privilege:  not having to think about it. People
> in a position of privilege have the option to pretend that these
> things are not going on under the surface (a man doesn't have to
> think "boy am I glad I'm less likely than a woman to get sexually
> assaulted walking down the street," for example). 

I don't really get it (perhaps you'll say that that's exactly the
point; I'm privileged because I won't acknowledge it ...). Men
understand quite well that women are more likely to be sexually
assaulted; that's why they're stricter about letting their daughters
out at night than they are about their sons. And if white people get
promoted more than black people to an extent unjustified by ability,
than what is that but racism?

> Perhaps an example of how this can be particularly damaging is that
> an able-bodied person doesn't have to think about the steps leading
> to the only door of a shop--so there is no pressure to make the
> shop more accessible, leaving people with certain types of physical
> handicaps out on the street. On a large scale, this leads to
> normalization of certain unwholesome practices (like not making
> buildings universally accessible) throughout a society, which in
> turn leads to marginalization of the people who don't have the
> option of "activating" that privilege and not thinking about it.

This is what I'd call thoughtlessness if the changes necessary to create
accessibility are reasonably easy and inexpensive to implement; if they
aren't, then we have a serious policy dilemma as to how far society
needs to go to help minorities (in the numerical sense, not the
political / ethnic).

> Intersectionality is simpler to explain:  basically, it's a refusal
> to examine only one aspect of identify in isolation of all others.
> A lot of social movements end up being single-issue; for a long
> time, for example, the women's movement did not acknowledge issues
> of race, class, and sexuality, but lately there's been a growing
> awareness of these issues. This single-issue problem tends to come
> from activations of privilege; the heterosexual, white,
> middle-class women dominating the movement, for example, simply did
> not have to think about the particular issues that women of color,
> queer women, lower-class women, and women with more than one of
> these "other" statuses face, and so only the problems facing
> middle-class heterosexual white women would get discussed and
> worked on. Put simplistically, it's just acknowledging that
> "racism" can't be separated from "sexism" can't be separated from
> "classism" can't be separated from "ableism" (quotes because I
> don't like "ism"s, because they tend to oversimplify things)
> because they're products of the same systems, ultimately, and
> because it's the people who bear the brunt of multiple "ism"s who
> are in the worst position, generally speaking. And this particular
> analysis doesn't really allow for too much
> oversimplification--after all, a lower-class, able-bodied,
> heterosexual white man does not have access to the resources
> available to a rich, able-bodied, heterosexual black woman; but
> then again, he still doesn't have to worry as much about being
> attacked on the street. So by refusing to gloss over the fact that
> not all white people, not all women, not all able-bodied people,
> are in the same position as each other, it's possible to create a
> more nuanced analysis of how the various systems of race, class,
> gender, sexuality, religion, ability, etc., interact, instead of
> just screaming about racism or sexism or ableism. Yes, these
> problems exist, but none of them are simple and they really can't
> be boiled down to "some people are just *bad* and discriminate
> against other people because they're *bad*," and they are much less
> obvious if taken in isolation. Again, if you would care for
> statistics, citations, and better articulation, I would be glad to
> provide these at a later date.

I really don't understand this. Why are the different problems related?
Why aren't they largely orthogonal? My real point, I suppose, is that
I'm somewhat suspicious of sociological problems that need to be
explained be using fashionable jargon of the sort popular in
universities. I do have little experience with this sort of thing in
the real world (I'm fairly privileged in the technical, old fashioned
sense), so I may be wrong, but as a reactionary sort of thinker, I
guess I need to see simpler, more common-sensical explanations and
convincing, statistical arguments to be shocked out of my sense of
privilege. You can, of course, feel free to give up on me as a
hopelessly privileged, neocon, right-wing hatemonger :).

Additionally, I particularly disagree with the lumping together of
'ableism' with the others. The classic idea of nondiscrimination, to
which I subscribe, is the requirement that we treat everyone equally by
not placing arbitrary, artificial limits on one class of people. It
doesn't follow that a class must be given extra help to overcome a
natural limit, although that will often be he decent thing to do. I
feel the same way about requirements for companies to grant women
maternity leave and so on; it may be desirable, but it is not required
by classic notions of nondiscrimination.

> Amy
> -- 
> You too can wear a nose mitten.

Possibly somewhat relevant both to the sig and to the discussion:

The law in its infinite Majesty,’ Anatole France once observed,
‘prohibits rich and poor alike from stealing bread & sleeping under

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