Approach to privilege

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wojtek
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Nov 20 2015 11:32
Approach to privilege

I don't know if it's a one size fits all for all the unreasonable advantages people have over others, but do you take full advantage of it (for those who would give up a limb for the same opportunity) and try to democratise access to it whilst arguing for its end?

wojtek
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Joined: 8-01-11
Nov 20 2015 11:33

Frick, wrong section! :/

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ocelot
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Nov 20 2015 16:40

I'm not sure whether it's the confusing wording of your original question, which makes it a bit difficult to figure out what it is you are actually asking, or just people thinking "Oh god! Not another car crash thread on privilege again" that means you haven't got any takers on this one so far. (I suspect it may be more the latter). Still and all, I'll bite.

Do privileges exist? Yes, clearly. Is "privilege" an abstraction that can successfully (i.e. usefully) capture or frame all aspects of oppressive social structures/relations? I'd say no.

Some things are clearly unreasonable and injust privileges like the VIP queue at a nightclub. If we want equality then we should all queue on the same first-come-first-served basis and the VIP queue that allows the rich and famous to jump the queue is the kind of privilege that must simply be abolished.

But even with the simple example of unequal preferential treatment, you only have to look at the howls of outrage from the right whenever groups or societies try to introduce positive discrimination to combat some structural inequality, to see that whenever you're dealing with structures and processes/relations of oppression, you always have to look at the whole picture, rather than just focusing on the right or wrong of a particular practice in isolation.

For example, here in Ireland in the runup to the next general election, political parties are selecting their candidates for the constituencies. Some of the main parties are belatedly trying to implement some "best practice" euro directive or other, by trying to get a minimum 30% of women candidates. In Fine Gael (the more right wing of our two party system, which atypically are both right-wing* due to the historical legacy of the civil war) the screams of outrage and mass resignations of constituency boards when their local "big man" has been deselected in favour of woman candidate, have been amusing, even for most of us who don't really have any preference what gender the politicians screwing are. The right is never such a champion of liberal egalitarianism as when it comes to pushing back against positive discrimination or "quotas" (pronounced as a swearword).

But privileges, in the everyday sense of the VIP queue example above, are not the only aspects of oppression. An example is the ability to walk around the city streets at night without fear of being attacked or sexually harrassed or raped. We generally accept that there is a huge difference between feeling relatively free of such worries and not, between men and women. Some people frame this as a male privilege. Personally I think it's more useful to think of this as an unjust oppression that women suffer - and it is that oppression that needs abolishing. (How to do this, is a much bigger problem than the VIP queue, obviously).

Otherwise you are left in the confusing situation of seeing some privileges as ones that should be abolished and other "privileges" as ones that should be generalised - e.g. everybody, men and women (and everybody else with real fears of violence in public spaces, LGBT, PoC, etc) should have the same right to walk around in town without worrying about their safety as white men currently (mostly) enjoy.

But on the whole, rather than argue too much about individual terms such as "privilege" and "oppression", I would emphasise the need to see these as aspects of a whole, and the necessity of looking at the dynamics of whole system, rather than a reductionist approach of trying to break it down into little bits that can be fixed (usually by calls for some law or state policy or other, rather than change in social relations) piecemeal, one discrete injustice at a time.

* in the conventional sense - i.e. not in the common leftist sense of denouncing the UK Labour Party as right-wing.