Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Painful Privilege

I have never done this before, and will certainly not be making a habit of it, but I'm going to repost something I wrote back in June, partly for new readers and partly because certain things that have happened this week reminded me that some concepts need reiterating. I'm going to be working on other 101s, but this is about owning privilege, and why it hurts, rewritten a little for clarity and progression of thought.

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Dear whitepeople, straightpeople, cispeople, men: it's not about you. The work that anti-racists, feminists, queer activists and other equality agitators do to combat privilege and prejudice actually has nothing to do with you. No really, listen up.

Does the suggestion that white, heterosexual males might still be enjoying unfair advantages in today’s society give you the strange sensation that a tight knot of anger is squeezing your normally normal-sized brain into a smaller, gassier space? Does the idea that white males might be a minority panic you, and the notion that they might still be an advantaged minority panic you even more? Do you think all these crazy feminazis and liberals are whinging about nothing? Do you worry that you’ll be the victim of ‘reverse discrimination’ at work, at school or in any other arena of power?

Then I have a message for you: your privilege is showing.

Take it from a lilywhite daughter of the Sussex middle classes: it is a great horror to discover that you yourself are part of the overclass and yet to feel that you are not enjoying any special privileges because of it. The nature of privilege, of course, is that it is taken for granted: whoever you are, whatever race, class, gender, you, like me, do not notice your own privilege 99% of the time you spend enjoying it. But actually yes, it does hurt. It hurts, in this culture, to feel powerless, and with the current cornucopia of crises most of us are feeling pretty powerless right now; it hurts even more to be powerless and at the same time be told that you are lucky, yes, lucky, to have the privilege of being white, male, straight, able-bodied and/or middle class. What’s felt but too often unsaid is: how can you call white males be privileged when we don’t feel very privileged?

To which the only decent answer is: did you expect to?

There is a difference between being privileged and being powerful. That, in fact, is why we have two different words for the concepts. Not everyone who is privileged is powerful, and certainly not everyone who is powerful is in every way privileged - look at the most powerful family in the world, who can’t even take their dog for a walk in the garden without an op-ed in the New York Times. Just because privilege is often a precursor to power does not mean that all privilege engenders power. This is where the politics of white male resentment begin: with white men complaining that they feel underprivileged, like a marginalised group, when what they actually mean is that they feel powerless.

Well, guess what. So do I. So does your Asian-British neighbor. Most of us feel pretty damn powerless. Things are bad. There’s a recession, kids are killing each other in the streets, nobody’s certain of having enough money to put food on the table tomorrow. It may surprise you to know that the rest of us aren’t sitting here imagining that white heterosexual males are living in some kind of utopia. We know you aren’t. We’ve met you. It may also surprise you to know that we don’t want to strip this mythical dominion from you and leave you naked: we just want to be where you are, with the same opportunities, the same freedom from fear, the same right to be judged as a person and not a demographic, however limited those freedoms, opportunities and rights currently are. Make sense?

We also understand that just because you're privileged in some ways doesn't mean you're not underprivileged in others - many people who enjoy male privilege or white privilege do not, for example, benefit from class privilege. But privilege is not a numbers game. Please try, if you can, to understand that different types of privilege do not cancel each other out. Men do not stop having male privilege just because they happen to be poor, just as whitepeople do not stop having white privilege simply because they happen to be women. There is no cumulative tally of privilege here. It's not, for god's sake, a competition.

Ceasing to see the equality agenda as a race to be least inherently privileged allows us to understand why feelings of powerlessness are distinct from lack of privilege. You may feel powerless, but equality agitators aren’t the reason for your lack of power. We aren’t the problem here. We took nothing from you – well, actually, we took one thing, and one thing only, and we're still in the process of taking it: the right of people who are white, or male, or rich, or straight, in any combination, to gain preferment and to expect to enjoy a better and safer life than people who are not. And yes, the fact that we stepped up and demanded that right back slightly decreases the average white man's chance at a top job, decreases the average white man’s automatic right to status and power and respect, if suddenly he is competing against not only his own race, class and gender but all the others as well in a capitalist world where status and respect are finite. In short, we’ve taken nothing you actually needed.

Now, you may think that you needed those things, those free passes to the top, that unspoken advantage over women and minorities, to get the good things in life. But trust me, you didn’t. I have met a great deal of white men and loved some of them very deeply: white men have the same potential as everyone else to prove themselves without the advantage of unfair selection which currently – still! – is weighted in their favour in almost every sector of work and citizenship. Trust me. You don’t need your privilege. Not half as much as we all need a fairer world.

Reducing unfair advantage is not the same as prejudice. Just because something inconveniences you doesn't mean it's about you. Look at strikes by workers on public transport or - this week - workers at the Royal Mail. These people do not strike because they want to make everyone else's lives harder. Their reasons for striking have almost nothing to do with the minor inconveniences caused to our routine and everything to do with the real and imminent circumstances of the strikers' own lives. It might feel like it's about us, but it's not. And exactly the same thing applies when people call us on privilege, or work to combat the effects of privilege that we have and they don't. It might feel like a targeted attack on us, the privileged party - but it's got almost nothing to do with us at all.

And that’s the problem, really. We are so desperate, so very, very desperate to be noticed, to contextualise ourselves at the centre of any story. Actually, what's most frustrating about the tube strike is that it was totally out of our control, manifestly messed things up just a little bit for everyone, and was – to add insult to injury! – almost certainly also the right thing to do.

It hurts. I know, I know it hurts, it hurts to realise that you have privilege and you never even realised it; it hurts to know that you are privileged and to still feel powerless; it hurts even more to realise that there’s no easy minority to turn and blame for all your problems. How do you think it feels, as a lady and a lifelong feminist, to realise that actually the individual blokes in the street and in my kitchen are not the source of all my problems, that if they went away I’d still be earning too little to pay my rent? I get it. Really, I get it. But getting it doesn’t mean I can excuse it in myself or in others. Because it’s not enough not to be stupid. Unless we actively and at every turn avoid turning on each other, avoid condemning the struggles of minority groups for equal rights to work and citizenship and quality of life, unless we stop whining that it’s not fair and then actively join that struggle as allies – unless we do that, we become part of the problem.

No, really. You might not think that you personally, sitting behind your computer, reading this rant and getting pissy, are part of the problem -but you are. The people who attack feminist and anti-racist writers with such bile and vitriol are part of the problem, even though many of those are the very same hands-up-harries who were the first to condemn the far right.

Because there is a heartbeat’s space between the blind stupid rage of otherwise sensible people who felt hard done by reading that article and the creeping influence of right-wing policymakers in parliament. There is a heartbeat’s space between the growing tide of otherwise non-idiotic white male resentment in this country and the breathtakingly idiotic racist, homophobic and misogynistic logic with which we have just sent two far-right representatives to the European Parliament. And if you are not prepared to step up, own your privilege and be part of the solution, then, my darlings, you are part of the problem.

40 comments:

  1. Thank you for reposting this. I hadn't read it before.

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  2. Two points: you can't take "back" what you never had. Women and minorities have never enjoyed, as independent groups, any economic parity with the Anglo-Saxon male. Even as a rhetorical device you should have been aware of that distinction. And to whom is this directed: the people you're complaining about, or the people who agree with you?

    Just to play Devil's Advocate, have you ever thought of why a group of (normally tolerant) people would send two far-right politicians to the EP? (Here in the US, the underlying problem is manifested in far right Republican views gaining popularity.)

    As Sun Tzu - essential reading for any activist! - said: know your enemy. If you don't, you'll never overcome him. (He doesn't have to know you. Although the wise conservative thinker would seek you out.)

    Carolyn Ann

    PS I'm confused: why are you linking race and feminism? Are you really defending a Muslim man who keeps his wife and daughters locked in the house? Racial equality is totally different to women's equality. I'll agree it has some of the same problems, but that's not the same as saying it is the same. Which you appear to do?

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  3. This is wonderful. Thank you for it.
    [vardaman]

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  4. Thanks for reposting, it's a great post. I want everyone in the world to have read it.

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  5. I'd sympathise with all of this. As a white male graduate I do appreciate that I just do not get stop-and-searched, the police presume I can sue them, I can walk straight into a busy office building without showing my pass, and no-one starts speaking slowly to me in a provincial town then speeding up after I reply. Not so much priviledge, as the presumtion that I'm supposed to be there.

    But as you'll realise in a few years, equal ops institutions are generally run by female middle-class humanities graduates from wealthy backgrounds, who have ambivilent feelings about white men. Try counting how many senior people in average London quango don't have a Russell Group or better degree. I have, and it really does help with life in London. Much more than being white & straight ever could. There are lots of straight white men in London.

    I think you have be careful about confusing an active malice against coloured and gay people [not rare enough, but rare], with a mild irritation at being lectured by your (generally white) economic "betters" [universal in any healthy society].

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  6. Utterly excellent exposition, Laurie. A measured response to the legions of squawking codpieces who pop up on the likes of CiF* whenever somebody suggests differentiating women from a doormat.

    * Or indeed, on here. [sigh]

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  7. Do you think class should be the main social referent, Penny, when trying to deal with contradictions between groups who may well share similar economic disadvantage? Whose afraid of the white working class ... Or the working class full stop.

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  8. Carolyn Ann,

    Islam is not a race.

    Feminism, gender and race are inextricably linked. For an excellent introduction to these concepts, google 'This Bridge Called My Back'.

    Alabama
    x

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  9. Alabama

    "Islam is not a race"
    exactly, which is why it isn't 'racist' to object to it, it being an ideology.

    "Feminism, gender and race are inextricably linked"

    no, they AREN'T. They are completely different unless you believe that white males have a deliberate conspiracy against everyone else!

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  10. Alabama - thank you for saying that so I didn't have to.

    Viking: yes, feminism, gender and race are linked, and not just in terms of victimhood. Think about, for example, the employment market - many people believe that in America in the 1960s-1970s, there was less resistance to women entering the job market because they took work that might otherwise have been taken by newly enfranchised black men (and women). Or look at the fascistic beauty industry - the standards imposed on all women everywhere are not only impossibly thin, but impossibly *white* - even the few non-caucasian models used in advertising and fashion spreads generally display unusually caucasian/aryan physical characteristics - as well as being tall and thin they will be paler-skinned, with straight hair, light eyes, lacking epicanthal folds or distinctively African or Asian facial features. Recognising how racism, sexism and gender fascism work together isn't about thinking there's some massive conspiracy on - that just isn't how the world works and it isn't how capitalism works. It's simply about facing facts. Sorry if that's hard for you to do.

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  11. Well it depends what you mean by 'distinctively African or Asian facial features' really.
    The beauty industry, which I agree is conformist, has as its primary consumers those in Western countries (who happen to mostly be white), and so there is a natural preference for white or white-ish models.

    In Bollywood movies, however, the female actors are all surprisingly light-skinned as they are presumably preferred by Indian men.
    (A former girlfriend of mine who is Indian-South African only ever dated white men - she says that Indian men don't like her because she is too dark.)

    What is a matter of personal preference, and marketing, should not be taken as a racism which has no place being located there; whereas I have no problem locating sexism within the beauty industry. The skinniness and conformity of appearance is once thing, but the ethnic origin of the models is quite another.

    Claiming that the standards set are "Western" is a fair claim. But we're IN the "West". What other standards would we have?
    I have no doubt that if you used a skinny blonde model to sell a product in Madagascar, they'd fall about laughing.

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  12. Viking? You're wrong on this one, mate. For one, the beauty industry does not mainly target Western women (not all of whom, by the way, are white!).

    Your last point about Madagascar - well, a study was done in Fiji recently which showed the shocking impact of Western beauty standards on the body image and mental health of Fijian women. More here: http://www.nytimes.com/1999/05/20/world/study-finds-tv-alters-fiji-girls-view-of-body.html

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  13. Viking - the representations of beauty and desirability found in magazines/ film etc. are only one of the most obvious places where race and gender collide. It seems strange that you agree sexism can be found here, but dismiss the dominance of certain racial types as 'marketing' and 'personal preference' (as if these two things are born and maintained in and of themselves, rather than being inextricably linked with existing cultural, social and economic biases including, yes, race.)

    There is nothing in the least 'surprising' about the lightness of Bollywood actresses' skin and it seems willfully naive (else mischevious) to put this down to Indian mens' 'preferences'. Beauty being subjective, after all, if this preference is shared across millions it is de facto a cultural preference and these have EVERYTHING to do with race and economics. The Indian subcontinent (and countless pharmacies and salons over here) abounds with skin whitening treatments and moisturisers, often with harmful bleaching agents, because Lighter equals Beautiful in Indian culture. This relates heavily to caste associations, where darker skin is seen to denote more lowly racial and socio-economic status (not dissimilar to how tanned skin in Western Europe used to denote working class - both contexts showing you to be engaged in outdoor manual labour). It's no harmless quirk that lighter girls get the guys/ movie roles, it's because their skin tone carries an implied message about their race and class.

    That said, I agree with the pointed hinted at by 'anonymous' above on economics. I get that for a poor white male, feeling that women or ethnic minorities with a better education or financial standing are telling him how easy he has it is infuriating. Because there's no obvious equations to be made - it's ridiculous to argue whether being a man, being white, being straight, being able-bodied etc. is the 'most' privileged of all the privileges. For most of us they intersect dynamically and what matters is that we recognise where they impact on our opportunities and where we respond to them in others; that we 'own it' as Laurie argues. Which is precisely why the 'poor white men being accused of global conspiracy' response is so very wearying. It's pretty much the polemical equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears going 'la la la la la la, can't heeeaar you!!'

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  14. Mhairig
    What you say about Bollywood is true but what is "surprising" as I put it is that most Westerners don't expect to see it, not that it's surprising for Indians.
    The Indians' love of lighter skin as you rightly point out goes back thousands of years, and is therefore entirely unrelated to Western ideals of beauty.
    Your point seems more of an criticism of Indian culture than Western.
    And just because that preference may be based on something else, doesn't make it less of a preference. I'm certainly not being mischievous in suggesting that those actors are selected because they meet the expectations of Indian men.

    I suppose I should've asked Penny to clarify what she meant by the 'beauty industry', as my own reply, I now realise, conflates the industry marketing cosmetics and beauty products -which is aimed at women - and the industry that provides and selects models to market products to men. The latter would be more in line with my remarks on 'personal preference'.
    On the other hand I still believe that these industries make most of their money from Western, wealthier, nations, as compared to developing ones, but am prepared to be shown figures that prove me wrong. Consequently they would adopt preferences and standards of those target nations - and no, they aren't all white (although the vast majority are), but neither are models.

    Obviously, the industry needs to take into account their target demographics, as the article Penny suggested re:Fiji (yes I did read it) shows. The rise in eating disorders as a result of Western body-imagery is appalling, although it's clear from the article that TV stations are achieving this rather than the beauty industry, which is not entirely dominated by western multinationals. Marketing for the African-American hair industry -which is worth 9 Billion dollars a year - features only African-American models; that is their target demographic.
    Incidentally, in Africa, it seems that American hip-hop culture has more of a negative influence on women's body images and mens' view of women that Western beauty companies do.

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  15. Yes, we're all very, very lucky.

    Given, as everyone above rightly states, that this is far more complex than a simple "white man luckier than black woman" equation, it's more important to campaign for equality of outcome than equality of opportunity.
    The ability to do a job effectively is a result of privilege, but work itself is *not* a prilvilege.
    We need to worry less about making it easier for the members of certain minority groups who have been blessed with talent (the result of privilege) to become powerful and worry more about redistributing the end results of their labour, equally.

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  16. This is some thing really new and interesting.

    - J.
    Web Designing

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  17. hmmmm? Where to start?

    Oh yeah..here goes...
    Facts..figures...anything but links to pieces of polemic?

    #Take it from a lilywhite daughter of the Sussex middle classes:#

    Think there might be just a touch of class bias going on here? I'm pretty sure..in fact I know for certain that the perceptions and 'privileges' of the "Sussex middle classes" are far from the norm where most white males are concerned. Don't let that worry you though..I'm sure you're one of those left wingers for whom class and economic determinism are just remnants of that befuddled age when the Left was there to address working class disadvantage and inequality. Now it's just a funky label various middle class bloggers lend themselves to pose better.

    Or maybe you think the 'Old Left' finished its task, ended economic inequality and now it's time to step aside for the new progressive Rainbow Alliance who're gonna cure a sick society with applied victimology?

    This would not be a bad piece if you'd made it clear that your comments applied exclusively to the middle-class and professions ..it might have some relevance there...but it would need evidence which I think might surprise you. It has little relevance elsewhere.

    Oh yeah...and..Carolyn Ann

    #the Anglo-Saxon male#

    'White' and 'Anglo Saxon' interchangeable now? Or is this part of the ongoing campaign to paint anyone from the "Celtic fringes" as a hapless victim of English imperialism and exculpate them from colonialist guilt?

    #As a white male graduate I do appreciate that I just do not get stop-and-searched, the police presume I can sue them#

    Oh yeah, how does this work? Do you walk around in a cap and gown? Or maybe you just have a natural air of intelligence?

    It's cos you're middle-class. You look it and sound it don't you? Face it mate, you're suffering the same delusions as Laurie.

    I'm guessing that you've decided, without any evidence, that BNP support is largely a white working class male thing and so you've decided to attack white males by painting them all as insecure,over-privileged, reactionary children.

    Two points

    1) Ever look at the membership list? How 'working class' were most of those addresses?

    2)Laurie...by any stretch...you're a liberal. Stop thinking you've anything to do with the Left...Ok you're on the pseudo-Left, if that makes you feel better.

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  18. Viking,

    going back to your first post here...

    race does not just mean non-white, and gender doesn't just mean female. Gender, race, class and a whole lot of other things intersect in each of us and in the way we relate to each other. I think your association of these things with 'everyone else' but not white men is a really good demonstration of the kind of unexamined privilege (and our fear of addressing it) that Laurie was writing about.

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  19. Alabama

    you've completely missed my point - I'm fully aware of what race and gender are.
    my point of departure with Penny is that in condemning patriarchy I feel she has identified Patriarchy as something exclusively 'white'. Now maybe I have misread her, and that's fine, but in my view sexism is least destructive in 'white' societies -although I would rather talk about 'Western' societies as that is more (but at the same time frustratingly less) accurate.

    of course white people are 'priveleged' in societies created by white people, like Britain, just as black people are privileged, for example, in 'black' societies. I know this from personal experience. What is needed is some perspective.
    We Westerners have created the most inclusive and open societies in the world (and we've killed millions of each other in the process). The rules of Western Capitalism make it easy for people outside that culture to adapt and achieve success when they follow the rules - why else do we have the most multicultural societies if that is not the case?

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  20. we just want to be where you are, with the same opportunities, the same freedom from fear, the same right to be judged as a person and not a demographic, however limited those freedoms, opportunities and rights currently are. Make sense?

    Actually, no, it does not make sense as there are myriad priviledges that accrue to females from which most, usually all, males are excluded. You can become an unattached parent at any time, one to whom the state will provide ample support, and the only thing you need to find is some bloke willing to shag, who then walks away none-the-wiser. You then have the priviledge of using the coercive power of the state to stick still more men with partial economic responsibilities for raising that child, a child who they will be allowed no say in rearing and instilling values. This priviledge is not available to men due to innate biological differences.

    And you want to talk freedom from fear? We men in many social situations are entirely at the mercy of women's whims. If we encounter a drunk, out-of-control female who is intent on actualizing her self-empowerment, she might verbally humiliate us or throw a drink on us just because she can. Now if it were a man we'd likely hit him, but we'd be set upon for doing the exact same thing to a women. Again, female priviledge.

    And, this may seem trivial, a man who, for whatever reason, takes a hiatus by living with his parents on a short-term basis takes a severe hit to his social status. I see little evidence of such a stigma placed on a young woman in a similar circumstance. More female priviledge, and I could go on and on.

    No, I will continue to fight for opportunities and priviledges for males that are less accessible to females precisely because there is a greater and more than offsetting array of female priviledges. That being said, I only want my fair share, not some world innundated with nothing but male priviledges and opportunities, which is one where male and female priviledges offset and, possibly even, complement each other. So, as long as there are opportunities more accessible to females I will be fighting for those more readily advantageous to males.

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  21. Viking,

    I have not misunderstood you, I chose to single out one aspect of your argument as I felt it had not been addressed by others. I didn't want to be drawn into an argument I've had a million times before.

    But go on, you've got me. 'Sexism is least destructive in white societies'? Jesus. Where to start.

    We should be grateful then, and stop complaining? We shouldn't be attempting to address imbalances of power in the societies we live in, or examining things that make us uncomfortable about ourselves?

    Nobody suggested that 'white' or 'western societies' had a monopoly on patriarchy. Patriarchal relations work within all societies and between them, and as far as I can see, you are the only one here setting up a 'white society' versus 'black society' issue. The world we live in, and the the nation states it is divided into cannot be separated so easily from each other and from the legacy of Colonialism. To talk about 'western society' and 'black society' (whatever they are) as if they have emerged independently of one another shows an incredible lack of understanding- of history, and of the global context in which all of these power structures operate. Summed up I think, in this little winner...

    'The rules of Western Capitalism make it easy for people outside that culture to adapt and achieve success when they follow the rules- why else do we have the most multicultural societies if that is not the case?'

    Hmm. Capitalism relies on exploiting the labour of those 'outside that culture' to produce goods, make a profit, and for 'economic growth' to continue. The computers we are using to conduct this exciting debate were assembled by women working 16 hour days in factories operated by multinational companies, in Export Processing Zones in Malaysia. Operating in these special economic areas allows the companies (or officially, the factories they subcontract to) to bypass things like minimum wage, or working hours regulations, and maximise efficiency. That is Capitalism. That is also gender, and race.

    You are right though, Global Capitalism (or Western, if you want to call it that) does in many ways bypass old ideas of race. Individuals of any colour or gender can potentially 'follow the rules' and with hard work and determination become successful. But not every individual. Most individuals in fact don't have much of a chance, white men included. The maths doesn't work. Economic success on such a huge level requires a class of people to exploit.

    To your last comment, about us having 'the most multicultural societies', I would say, don't be so easily taken in by political rhetoric. We like to talk about multiculturalism alot. But other places do it too. Singapore for instance, is a home and workplace to people originally from the Philipines, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India, and Indonesia, to name but a few.

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  22. Hello, I am the First Anonymous Poster, He Who Does Not Get Stop And Searched.

    @monkeyfish - Yes, I am middle-class. I work in tech, I've just finished a Tesco Metro quiche, and I'm writing this on a black MacBook in West London. I don't walk around with a cap and gown - scruffy jeans and slightly spiky haircut are the done thing. (oh, and a scarf.) The police do search my equally middle-class brown friends. (And one white one, but he was Irish.) The BNP are left behind whites smashing things to get attention to the fact that they can't afford to raise their families anymore. I don't entirely blame them. No-one who's supposed to represent them in London gives a sh*t about them.

    @Asher - We're a foot or two taller, have twice the upper body strength, and don't bleed intermittently for no good reason. Lots of my male friends have slummed it back home for a few months between jobs, it happens. Let it go. Besides, girls are pretty and we like to give them things so they like us.

    Moving back to moneyfish et al :-

    The status gap that's opened up around family background in professional London is disturbing. With the right connections, be they in the City, or the leftie-ur-thing, fairly dumb but reasonably articulate people can get very good jobs. Look at a City firm, or a national newspaper, the up-and-comer will be called Georgia and the their 55yr old manager will be called Bob. (And in fairness to the City, they will actually pay Georgia a living wage.)

    I don't think we have white male privilege in the UK as whole society (by which I mean the nicer part of London.) We do have white not-having-to-put-up-with-the-occassional-idiot. Privilege means we assign specific roles in society by race, then enforce them. A gay black muslim lawyer in England is a small novelty, but they're not hated. Their existence isn't seen as a threat to other's social status. S.Africa's whites *needed* blacks to be in poverty - I don't need anyone to be given a funny look at the reception desk - there's a difference.

    London's a strange place, it relies on importing cheap labour to do all the working-with-hands stuff. I'm definitely receiving an "indigenous" worker premium (maybe 20%) over an Indian or a Polish techie. They're new here, so that's both expected and temporary. But keep that rolling, either you have to keep importing cheaper people or oppressing the ones you have. Maybe not a good combination along with all the affluent stupid middle-class people.

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  23. Summary of the above: Oxford educated white smears critics with BNP.

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  24. Alabama

    I don't know why you have a problem with the statement I made - "Western" societies are much better on women's rights than non-Western societies - just go to one and see.

    I'm not saying it's perfect, or ideal, and definitely not saying you have no right to complain about it, but womens' position in Britain is much better than the status of women in most developing countries.
    Your right to complain is a welcome part of Western culture and one you might not have in other countries. You have nothing to be 'grateful' for - that right was fairly won by years of activism, as all of our fundamental rights were.

    Even in countries like the Philippines, or your example of Malaysia, the option that women have of working in factories must be somewhat better than staying at home being treated like baby-making machines or else they wouldn't do it.
    Again, not saying that conditions are ideal, but their options are limited and making trainers for you and me allows them to have their own money - assuming of course that their husbands don't pocket it. Of course there are human-rights issues involved as well, but these need to be tackled separately, rather than condemn the existence of such factories, which if properly regulated would be good for womens' rights in those countries for the reasons I've given.

    It wasn't me that framed the argument around 'white vs. nonwhite' - actually that is inherent in Laurie's article. If she had kept the word "white" out of it I would have applauded it 100%.

    We are not perfect here in the "West", but our societies are relatively far more open and inclusive than "traditional" ones. We're not there yet, but even having this argument is celebrating this fact.

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  25. Viking: the book Orientalism, read it.

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  26. Has to be done
    http://richmedia.lse.ac.uk/publicLecturesAndEvents/20091022_1830_stuffWhitePeopleLikeHowToFindSocialSuccessWithTheUrbanDwellingMiddleClasses.mp3

    From Not Searched Anon

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  27. Sorry, I've been exploring the side roads of northern New Jersey and southern NY State, getting quite wet in the process. Ah, I just love motorcycle camping! :-)

    Oops - poor wording on my part. Well, poor paragraph structure and a deletion that should have been done, but was not; two distinct ideas need two distinct paragraphs. Sorry about that; my excuse relies on the time I made the comment: five to four ante meridiem. Just goes to show how careful you have to be with the Internet Comment! Let me try again:

    PS I'm confused: why are you linking race and feminism? Racial equality is totally different to women's equality. I'll agree the two have some similarities, but that's not saying they are the same. They are not, and should never be confused.

    Is that better? I'll guess not.

    MonkeyFish, unless someone has changed the definition of "anglo-saxon", then yes: it's a way of saying "a white person". If you insist upon only "inclusive" colloquialisms, you'll have to forward me a list of the approved ones. So I can ignore it.


    Carolyn Ann

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  28. MonkeyFish, unless someone has changed the definition of "anglo-saxon", then yes: it's a way of saying "a white person".

    So the Irish, Italians, Russians etc aren't white then? Because they're in no sense Anglo or Saxon.

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  29. There's a significant difference between a turn of phrase (sometimes also known as using a colloquialism), being "inclusive" and being "entirely too literal".

    It is generally accepted that an "Anglo Saxon" is white. It does not mean that no one else is.

    As someone with Irish blood: some Irish are, indeed, from Anglo-Saxon stock. Unless you're restricting your definition of "Irish" to include only those who are not? And don't contain any Anglo-Saxon blood within their family history?

    Try not being quite so literal. Please?

    Carolyn Ann

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  30. I want to say something about this, but I'm not sure what.

    Let me start by pointing out what you already know: I'm a white, able-bodied, cissexual, heterosexual, middle class, Cambridge educated, Anglican, RP-accented, male professional. I approach life with a general expectation of benevolence, and I'm never disappointed. Wherever I am, people listen when I speak, and treat what I say seriously, and later on they give me credit for my ideas (and sometimes other people's). Strangers treat me with respect and do their best to help me. I definitely am privileged.

    That didn't hurt at all. In fact, it was quite soothing in a 'count your blessings' kind of way. I'm currently feeling rather miserable, and it's nice to remind myself how the world is basically orientated to my benefit.

    I'm reassured to learn that this isn't about me. I'll just crack on then shall I, and leave you chaps to solve your problems? No, of course it is about me: it's about all of us.

    Also, from my Olympian perspective, it seems to me that privilege isn't about ticking certain boxes: it's about being, in the round, the 'right' sort of person. There are statistical trends, but at the level of the individual, they don't really matter. I know Indian women who are the right sort, and white men who aren't.

    And you are. You really are (to borrow your idiom). So I can sympathise with people to whom your use of 'we' and 'you' sticks in the craw.

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  31. Robert,

    I take your point about being 'the right sort of person' - and I think, in many ways, what you're referring to there is class. Not just wealth, but other markers of class - dress, comportment, behaviour, confidence, the way you carry yourself. I happily acknowledge that I have class privilege, but at the same time I don't think that that ought to prevent me talking about identity politics.

    For me, being the 'right sort of person' in the way I present is a very variable thing. Quite a lot of the time, I can come across as very likeable; when I'm having a Bad Mental Health Day I come across as extremely weird, twitchy, nervous and odd. This doesn't negate class privilege - but it does mean that for me, coming across as 'the right sort of person' can be fairly hit and miss.

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  32. "I don't think that that ought to prevent me talking about identity politics."

    I would be the last person to stop you!

    I'm happy to call it 'class privilege' provided that we understand that we're not talking simply about background in the traditional working/middle/upper sense. Because there are lots of people who are undeniably middle class, but who still aren't the 'right sort'. Who would, for example, feel awkward and out of place at one of our readthroughs.

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  33. James,

    you said it far better than I, and in only one sentence.

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  34. It's people like you- people who are no doubt younger than me - who make me M.A.D.

    How are you so damn smart?! How do you have so much conviction in yourself? I loved this piece, and yes, I'm working on my internal rat-race programming: it's not a competition...

    Anyway, I think it's fair enough to lump race and gender into one equation when the common denominator is the oppressive force of the white man 'in right-wing government'.

    I'll have to keep reading your blog, because I forget why there's even a need for each one of us to be a feminist: so many people are disagreable beyond belief, I generally lump human beings into my subjective 'like' and 'dislike profoundly' categories. And yeah, I've met white men I've loved insanely too. The arseholes are easy to spot and I just shove them as far out of my sight as possible. But it's not fair to let other girls deal with them alone! Time for some spears to brandish about outside rape court cases methinks!!

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  35. You've separated out two concepts in my head that were tangled together - thank you.

    Now I wish the wider feminist movement could boost this idea out to the public, because 90% of the legitimacy feminism has lost has come from the misunderstanding that you were combating white male *power*. To which the retort is "what power?".

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  39. You're very right, and I agree completely with what you say, but...

    It seems a bit against the spirit of your article not to acknowledge that there *is* also privilege associated with being a woman, even if the overall weight is very much in the other direction.

    Only the frothiest loon thinks you'd be better off as a randomly-placed woman than randomly-placed man *now*, but it's a little more reasonable to imagine a future where male privilege is stripped away but female privilege is left unacknowledged.

    Just to be absolutely clear: I agree women get a significantly worse "deal" overall on average, that work towards equality is good and important, and that the kind of vitriol you mention is inexcusable.

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