qoheleth: (pic#582996)
[personal profile] qoheleth
Breaking the ice is always bizarre and uncomfortable, but it must be done.
My life at the moment is sweet and maddeningly simple. I have everything I want, everything I could need and the guilt that comes with that is overpowering.  I live a privileged life, well provided for. I happened to pick the right partner and now I have a house, a car, and so much flexibility to pay down my school loans, I feel like I've cheated the system.
I am the picture of upward mobility: my mother's mother has nothing to her name but the double wide she lives in; my mother has a high school degree, but never made it to college; and I have two frivolous B.A.s, a masters in my near future, and am dating a Ph.D. student with thousands in stocks and wealthy parents who own a house on Maui half a mile from the beach.
The house I share with my boyfriend is outfitted with a swamp cooler in lieu of central air, composting bin, rain barrel, a prius in the garage, and soon to be solar panels this winter. We compost, recycle, or wash and reuse 95% of our waste. All this helps me sleep at night under my roof of Western luxury.
Someone I follow writes often on privilege and she makes compelling, outraged points that leave me reeling. I wonder what I am to do with my fair skinned, straight haired, 5'8", 120 pound frame self. How do I atone for my sins? The sins of my ancestors? How do I apologize for the color of my skin... or not apologize, but do penance for? My green-eyed, American-apple-pie face? Orthodontia perfected smile? Do I starve myself, fall in the dust, gnash my teeth? Do I educate the "unlucky" and teach them all I know about being a rich, young white girl in God's Country?
I am ashamed.  I am at a loss.  I can acknowledge the inherent evil of my existence, but what do I do?  It seems the only full and proper way to absolve my own nature and circumstances is death, but my survival instinct, that of an animal, refuses.

Date: 2010-08-24 12:45 am (UTC)
ajnabi: cartoonic photomanip of my face (with some body) against a colourful patterned background (Default)
From: [personal profile] ajnabi
hey. i don't think your existence is inherently evil.

and i think it's important to recognize and hold yourself accountable for your privilege, but that doesn't mean doing "penance" or hurting yourself. it just means realizing, as it seems you are, that you have a lot of benefits and advantages that most people don't have. and not defending that. realizing that the systems that allow for your privilege are fucked up.

and i think that when you realize that, it's really important, because it means that you're seeing things you didn't before. i often feel really guilty for my privileges, but i'm trying to work on transforming that guilt into recognition and action. and i don't think there's really any one way to act against oppression-- for me, personally, it comes about most in interpersonal interactions. in recognizing people who have different, and disprivileged histories.

sometimes it helps to get involved in activist movements (and sometimes not). personally, when i can, i do some social justice blogging, and i write and stuff. some people take part in rallies and protests. some people write and perform and make powerful art. and this is a really small tiny fragment of the millions of ways in which people can show that they are not willing to comply with and perpetuate systems of injustice anymore, or, that they're going to actively work to see and resist against the ways they do.

i'm reminded of what my girlfriend often tells me-- resisting means doing what you can. and i used to feel very guilty about not participating in a lot of conventional forms of activism (rallies, protests..) but, you know, it's very ableist to assume that everyone can do things in those ways, for one thing. i can't. and i'm trying to realize that that's okay. but when you are in a position of privilege, use that privilege to speak out against it, at the very least. and i think you're trying to do that. i just want to caution you that hurting yourself is not going to absolve anything. i'm not going to tell you whether to hurt yourself or not (and i hope this doesn't sound like that, because man would that be kyriarchal and fucked up of me, not to mention hypocritical, and i'm sorry if it does), but please don't think that hurting yourself is going to benefit other people.

also, no, "educating" people who are less privileged than you is not the answer, because you are assuming there that you know more than they do, or you have a better life than they do. and i think that one of the biggest assumptions that we make in our privilege is that the disprivileged would always choose to have our lives, if they could, and that they always have it harder. yes, it is harder because systems of oppression make their/our lives harder. but that doesn't mean that they/we would want to live like the privileged. what we/they often want or wish for (but not always, and obviously this is complicated, different people are different, different experiences are different) is to have their existences and their histories validated, respected, and appreciated. i think that, actually, what you should think about doing is learning from the disprivileged about their experiences. we already know what rich white girls are like; we're often forced to constantly try to reach up to that standard, which we can never "achieve". in fact, the oppressed usually if not always know FAR MORE about the oppressors than the oppressors know about themselves (and definitely what they know about the oppressed).

i imagine it is complicated moving from a background of not-as-much class and education privilege to a position of so much class and education privilege. i hope that you find ways to confront your privilege without self-destructing. ironically, it is also a privilege to be able to self-destruct with guilt.

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