(preface – this is a pretty abstract post. If I have time, I will follow on with a more specific one about sexism, which is an issue I’ve had to struggle with as I’ve learned about privilege.)
It’s been about a year and a half since I’ve started to learn about gender, sexuality, and the intersections of privilege. It has not been an easy trip. I would have never made it this far without my friends. Even with their help, I’ve stopped and stumbled many times. The hard part was getting up every single time, not sinking back down, not just giving up and letting the world go on as it is.
It is hard to be aware of your privilege. It is impossible to go through life without ever saying or doing anything racist, sexist, ableist, etc. When you do, it’s sometimes hard to realize you did anything wrong. The problem with a lot of prejudiced messages is that they’re so deeply ingrained in us, we simply aren’t aware of their meaning. Worse, they’re a part of our personal safety net, the little web of tacit assumptions and convenient shortcuts we weave to make sense of the world. Start tugging at one part of that web, and the whole thing shakes, makes us uneasy, unhappy.
Even when you realize you did something wrong, it can be difficult to figure out what to do next. In some cases, you say sorry and move on. In other cases, you correct yourself. In almost all cases, it’s nice to apologize, listen to the offended party, and try to change your behavior. And yet, people rush around and forget and don’t take the time to learn from their mistakes – I still do, at any rate.
Hardest of all may be cases where there’s nobody there to apologize to. You can think racist thoughts all you want, right? You can make that anonymous comment on the Internet, or watch that slightly sketchy porn film by yourself, and you’re not really hurting anyone, so how can it be bad? Changing my own thoughts, my own perceptions of the world with nobody telling me, This is Wrong, This is Right, not even implicitly, has been one of the hardest lessons to learn in the past year.
And yet, it’s all worth it. I’m not writing this post to talk about how hard my life is (that would be, in fact, precisely the wrong thing to write) – I’m writing to say why I have consistently not picked the path of least resistance. It’s not about being able to Do Good things (though that’s definitely a bonus), it’s not about being self-righteous or Earning More Points than the next person. It just feels good to be aware, to be mindful, to be a little humble for a change. In this world where we spend so much time chasing after abstract goals that have nothing to do with people – the paycheck, the diploma, the stock option – the feeling of actually relating to other living, breathing human beings, with their awesome differences and their awesome similarities, is enough to put a smile on my face. Enough to write about and share with the world and maybe encourage someone else to do the same.