Further Thoughts on Privilege

Cloud Sculpture - San Francisco Airport
Cloud Sculpture – San Francisco Airport

Privilege is just a matter of everything you don’t have to think about–but that other people do.

Today I bought a wheelie bag for my laptop and books. With spinal arthritis, I simply can no longer support the weight of a backpack or messenger bag.

But now I have to think about sidewalks. Curbs. Bus stairs.

Walking down the sidewalk, I got stared at, people wondering why the wheelie bag. I look young and healthy. Suck it up, girl.

It’s a small thing. But the world really does look different to my friend in her wheelchair. And it’s not just the physical obstacles. It’s the assumptions people paste over who you really are.

At Gaymer X over the weekend, Porpentine said that certain voices end up excluded from the conversation not because they are explicitly barred. But because those “certain voices get tired.” Tired from the everyday obstacles and the relentless bullshit they have to put up with the moment they leave their front doors, they’ve got nothing left at the end of the day for art or activism.

Sometimes I’ve been frustrated with the friend who has cerebral palsy. The friend who is a minority bisexual female. When I invited them for a day out and they repeatedly said no or fell suddenly sick or were just too depressed and anxious, I felt like they didn’t have time for me. I took it personally.

But these same friends have gently helped me realize that’s another symptom of privilege–taking things personally because one doesn’t understand how the world works. How impersonal the system really is.

My friends simply get tired sometimes. They get tired of the hostile stares. The old man who sizes them up and labels them “dyke” and spits at their shoes in a suburban parking lot. They get tired of constantly plotting their next maneuver around yet another obstacle in a hallway, on a sidewalk, a bus. The condescension. The poverty. The people who are angry at them for daring to exist. For challenging normative assumptions.

I would get tired, too.

When one of my bisexual friends said she was surprised that some of this seems so new to me, I admitted, well, I didn’t have to think about it. It’s not that I was completely unaware of my privilege as a straight, white woman from a middle-class upbringing. But it wasn’t regularly on my mind.

Another sign of privilege.

“But after the arthritis diagnosis, I became much more aware. Sure, I’d known what my friend with cerebral palsy puts up with because we’d talked about it. But it was ‘that other thing that happens to someone else.’ It’s different when you face a loss of privilege yourself. And I think that’s left me much more open to seeing all my layers of privilege, all the prejudices around me–and not just the ableism.”

At the gaming convention in San Francisco, Mattie Brice posited that one of the most valuable contributions from people of privilege is the act of telling their stories. How did you become aware of your privilege? How did that awareness change the way you interact with the world and with other people? Such stories, she said, are largely absent from our culture.

Jon Scalzi and others have opened up this topic. As my own health issues move me deeper into a privileged/disadvantaged space, I’d like to add to it.

Published by M.C. Easton

Novelist and teacher.

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