Posted by: birdmaddgirl | 17 May 2012

imagination, privilege, and solutions

in response to this Jezebel article about straight white male structural privilege, a friend commented that articles such as this are unnecessary because the facts are “well-known,” they make SWMs feel “attacked and victimized,” and what we need are solutions. i have a great deal of respect for my friend, who is a SWM and who also said that the metaphor employed in this article is “pretty fair” and replied with thoughtfulness and engagement about his assessment of “privilege.” however, i find the statement from an intelligent, open-minded guy that this sort of writing is not needed all the more disturbing.

i’m not going to restate the article or general arguments about white or male or straight privilege. there are plenty of resources for that sort of thing online already. but i will talk a little bit about why we need articles like this, and then i will tell you how to fix the world.

it takes an incredible amount of imagination to even begin to comprehend what it must be like to be someone else. think about your immediate family, who are probably the folks in the world you know the most about from both material and emotional perspectives. can you honestly say that you know what it was like to grow up in your parent’s shoes? your partner’s? be really honest. bottom of your soul where no one else can hear you honest in your bones honest.

because i will tell you straight up that i can’t. not in a holistic way. hell, i was present for my sister’s entire childhood, and we shared a bedroom, and we went to several of the same schools, and i knew most of her closest friends. i would still never presume to say that i know what it’s like to be my sister.  i can wrap my head around individual aspects of someone else’s life but nothing approaching a wholly-realized understanding. i can only dimly begin to comprehend a few facets of being an ethnic or religious minority in the united states. to say nothing of the many other groups. i try, and i fall short every single day. and i don’t think that i am deficient in sympathy or imagination; i expect that i fall somewhere along the better end of average in both regards. this is why great works of art are so compelling – they embody the rare gift of imagining someone else’s life.

i believe with all my heart that we need to be reminded to step outside of ourselves, to use our powers of imagination and sympathy. the more often the better. articles like this provide an opportunity to reinvest in the possibility of change by giving voice to the need to keep questioning and reexamining our cultural, legal, and personal situations. they remind us of the things we take for granted everyday. human beings are creatures of habit. we get into ruts and ignore what we think we know. we stop paying attention. i recently read richard freeman’s the mirror of yoga wherein he writes about the need to constantly erase and redraw the circle of your perceptions. he means this as it applies to the physical practice of yoga, but also in mental and spiritual terms. it takes a powerful amount of imagination to keep erasing and redrawing the circle. it also takes humility to examine uncomfortable ideas and to reassess something that you think you understand.

there are a multitude of other reasons why it’s important to keep calling attention to structural privilege. a quick examination of various state laws passed just in the last five years suggests that in the u.s. the gaps between people will continue to broaden in terms of equal pay, partnership and marriage, health care, education… the list is too long to engage with here. i believe in progress and change. i also believe in being realistic about the obstacles to progress and change that i hope will be dealt with. articles like this will remain necessary as long as structural inequality exists, as long as we need to redraw the circle, and as long as we find it difficult to step away from ourselves and imaginatively and materially invest in another.

which leads me to the part where i solve all the world’s problems and call it a day. without further ado: be nice to every single person you ever interact with and then find a way to be even nicer; question socially-received reality and then question your questioning; live with integrity.

now you know. so get out there and change the world.


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