Friday, May 11, 2012

Gun Culture and Privilege

(This is kind of rambling. I apologize. I am swimming through a mess of fog and phlegm with suspected strep throat. Read or disregard at your leisure.)

Wow, gun culture is some taking some swats lately. Some deserved, some not. I do want to say that I do not know a single gun owner that is an NRA member or has two nice words to say about that organization. I know they are out there, let me tell you about my last gun show. I do not really feel bugged by these swats, because I know I am not their target. I only worry that others will think that it is me.

I carry because I am a crippled lady that simply is not able to physically defend against even the average foe. I carried when able bodied because I was a woman driving on highways and country roads at night alone. I have carried because my personal defense is my personal responsibility. My self defense is my own civic responsibility.

And you know what? At the range, practicing to end a life if necessary, I can honestly tell you that 100% of the time I am imagining a white person at the other end of my barrel. Usually a man, but there have been a couple of women in my life that have altered that for brief periods of time.

I mentioned because it keeps sticking in my head. One of the reasons that people fight the idea of privilege is that if you are a woman, or poor, or disabled, or LGBTQIA - it is hard to feel it like the people telling you about privilege want you to feel it. They will point up the hierarchy and say that's who you want to talk to if you want privilege.

This is because there is a funny thing about whiteness: it seems that it must have something to destroy. The days of open colonialism are rapidly closing in favor of "nation building" and "fighting them over there." But our dirty little secret is that in the absence of non-white folk to destroy, in any single or combination of physically, economically, spiritually, mentally; we destroy ourselves. There is no greater cannibal in history than whiteness.

Without a state of non-whiteness to unite against, whiteness turns in and eats itself: the disabled, the non-straight, the poor, the non-Christian, the non-Western, even the non-male get consumed and suppressed. And so, it becomes difficult to explain to a poor, USian, disabled, Wiccan, trans* lesbian that she has white privilege. Because Whiteness, as an entity, only includes her among it's ranks against some Other.

She does have privilege, and it does matter; all of her other states matter too.

I think we need a new vocabulary, one that that can talk about privilege without stigma. One that can acknowledge oppression without pity. A new language, or a new attitude about language needs to be born. Soon. I thought #Occupy would birth it, but it seems not. But maybe something will come after #Occupy, or inspired by - I do not know. But I think it will play it's part. I think we are still building those bridges, and it feels like we are approaching some sort of apex.


  1. Forgive me if this is a slightly tangential/derailing comment, because I can't speak with authority about gun culture, but the latter part of your post spurred some thoughts.

    I'd love to see a language or paradigm change that acknowledges the non-binary nature of privilege, the existence of axes of oppression, and the existence of the kyriarchy.

    One thing I keep running into, when discussing privilege with people previously unfamiliar with the concept, is a level of defensiveness and a narration of personal incidents of oppression to "prove" that the person doesn't have privilege. It requires some degree of teasing out the non-binary nature of privilege, where you can be marginalized in one area but privileged in another, to get most people to understand that saying that they have "_X_ privilege" isn't an accusation.

    One thing that occurred to me as a possible solution to this "new vocabulary" issue would be to frame the discussion as something like the old Geek Code -- producing a graph or a compact statement of the ways in which a person is privileged or marginalized.

    That way, we can *acknowledge and validate* personal narratives of oppression, without failing to acknowledge the fact that the person we're talking to may be privileged in a number of other ways.

    It's important not to label other people without their consent (I was talking to Josh about this over lunch, and he brought up the example of a multiracial person who was claiming marginalized status, and someone else said that in THEIR opinion, the person had passing privilege based on their appearance -- I can see THAT turning ugly quickly.) But if you use yourself as an example, and then invite the person you're talking with to come up with a similar "code" for themselves, it allows the identification of axes of oppression and areas of privilege, without turning it into a binary argument, where people either "are privileged" or "aren't privileged," full stop.

    Does that make sense? (I don't think it's THE solution, but I think it could be A solution, or at least the beginning of some talking points.)

    -- A :)

    1. No worries, my whole post was rather tangential!

      My experience parallels yours: the best way to approach an individual's privilege in a conversation is to acknowledge one's own first and let them come to label and acknowledge their own. I often use this story, because the privilege as big feet imagery seems to work pretty well:

      Honestly, though, sometimes when someone is stomping on me with their big feet, I sometimes lose the patience required to nurse them to understanding, you know?

      I am starting to think that we should be teaching this in some mandatory class in high school, if not create another one called Social Awareness and Responsibility or something...

      Hey, thanks for commenting! With a lot of my posts, I hope that they start conversations like this one. I do think that you have a good working solution, but sometimes it seems like we need a trunk load of those just to get someone started.

      - C =)

    2. Aw, thank YOU for writing this in the first place, and sparking the conversations and thought processes :)

      I love that link! I hadn't read that essay before, but I really like it :)

      Marie likes it too, although she was saying that the one thing it didn't address was that part of the reason that the world was designed for the dog's comfort is that dogs had spent generations actively oppressing lizards . . . but I'm okay with that being another conversation, once someone has gotten their head around the general concept of privilege.

      I would LOVE to see this as a mandatory high-school class -- Social Awareness and Responsibility sounds like a good title to me. And maybe we can throw in some basic life skills, like how to budget and save money, because too many kids (myself included) graduate from high school without them. But that's another story, I think.


    3. Excellent!

      Marie is right. I am not sure there is a way to impart all that information at once and not lose the person you are trying to reach, you know? Even here at home, some of these conversations have been very careful, by necessity.

      I think that some of the folks in the trenches, fighting for rights that are not their own, see acknowledging the long history of an oppression as a luxury, an advanced class. But I think it is 101, because only by acknowledging and really knowing our history, can we gain perspective and also be watchful for reinforcement of oppression.

      Sometimes, I think you have to be more careful with people that view themselves as progressive. It is kind of like "Hey, I did my work on evolving, and now I want credit for that." When you can plainly see that there is more work to be done. Hell, I do not know anyone, including myself, that is all the way there. Is that even possible?

  2. Yeah, I think that if you want to educate people and bring them over to our side, the key is to get the basic concepts imparted first, and then start talking about the specifics of oppression as a later conversation.

    Yes, it's still 101 stuff, but I think that it's important not to alienate your audience (which, I've been told, is a tone argument -- but since my goal is to change minds and hearts, I'd like to work on an education basis rather than confrontation, if I can), because discussions of privilege *often* feel like an attack when the subject is first broached, and I'm trying to find ways around it, so that the listener's first response isn't "Are you calling me a racist? I'm not a racist!" or "I'm not privileged! I have personal experience of oppression!"

    Heh -- we refer to people who view themselves as progressive but want some kind of recognition for every step they take, "wanting a cookie."

    Doesn't mean they're bad people, and I've certainly caught myself hoping for cookies when trying to do the right thing before -- but it is important to acknowledge that it's not the responsibility of marginalized people to constantly hand out cookies to progressives for doing things that are basic human decency.

    I know I'm not all the way there. I'm open to learning, and I know I'll screw up along the way sometimes. But I'm trying to be a better person and to treat other people better, and to understand that my viewpoint and my history is not the only viewpoint and history and perspective out there . . . but it's always going to be a process, with me and with everyone.


    1. I do not know if I have just gotten older, or shorter tempered, or just more efficient (lol!), but confrontation presents itself to me as a reasonable response more often than in the past. Maybe this is an early stage of Cantankerous. I will usually try working on it first, and stay there if it works; but sometimes, damn, sometimes... But I am working on a post about that!

      You are right, in general folks are worth the effort. I do not know if I could count, and I could never thank enough, the people that have helped me, are helping me, will help me along the way. It is a wonderful responsibility to need to pass that on.

      Thank you for the conversation! I am fading quick after getting out of the house for a little bit (hurrah!) while sick (boo!) for a movie. I apologize in advance if I lose the plot here later.

      - C


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