tabari_avaren (tabari_avaren) wrote in feminist_101,

Privilege, gender and otherwise

This question really would fit in better at feminist, but as the fine folks there rejected me for membership (I guess because I registered too recently, or something like that), I'm posting it here, because this is bugging me.

I see the word "privilege" thrown out a lot on lj comms like feminist, fem_rage, bad_feminist, etc., and I've figured out what it means by now (hah), but I'm not quite sure what an appropriate response would be to the challenge, "check your privilege", or something along those lines.

Myself, for instance. I'm not male, so I don't have male privilege, but I'm white, upper-middle class, attending a top-flight liberal arts college, and come from a well-educated family. Clearly, I have class privilege and race privilege. While I regret that my race and class privilege must, by definition in this capitalist society, lower the race/class privileges of other less fortunate individuals, I'm not much for flagellation - I don't blame myself for being fortunate, as I didn't create the system, and I'm not going to say something ludicrous, like that I wish I'd been born poor and Black in the ghetto, or were a semi-illiterate illegal immigrant from Latin America.

As someone who is conscious of her privilege, what sort of duty to I have to society in general and to the less privileged in particular? Is it enough to be a decent human being, to harm no one and not to abuse my relatively privileged position in society? Or is "the system" set up in such a way that any passive existence in said system is by default an abuse of the less privileged? Is it enough that I donate a little every Christmas to appropriate charities, or do I have an obligation to become politically active? Do letters to my congressmen and senators suffice, or must I participate in rallies?

Hell, I want to be a lawyer - but if I wanted to go into business, sales, for example, would I be exploiting others due to my privilege in a capitalist society?

While I'm talking mostly about class here, I think these questions can broadly apply to gender, too, which I think makes it appropriate.

I find that pointing fingers at people and telling them that they have privilege is generally unproductive. Unless you tell people what they can do, as privileged members of society, to help change society so that "privilege" diminishes, they're going to feel a little guilty, and then feel a lot angry, because people don't like feeling guilty for things that they "can't help" anyway. None of us choose how and where we are born, is a common defense - and it is to a point true. But those of us born into privilege have to do something to help society if we want to be seen not as exploitative but as decent human beings.

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