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TygrBright

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Member since: 2001
Number of posts: 18,172

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Being White and Female: How Toxic is Half the Privilege?

So, yeah, privilege in American culture has many dimensions and race and gender are only two of them. There's a poisonous mash-up of other characteristics we use to dehumanize each other-- who we love, where we worship, how educated our parents are/were, where we were born, what level of education we finished, what kinds of work we do, what ZIP code we live in, how healthy we are, how thin, how attractive, etc.

Many privileges are conditioned or affected by other privileges, but most often by the Big Two: Race and gender. Once those are assigned in the genetic lottery, our culture uses them to define us and place us in the hierarchy that has "White/Y-chromosome" at the top.

I am white and I can barely imagine the experience lived by not-white people in America and I certainly can't speak to it.

But I am also someone with two "X" chromosomes. And I've come to painful terms with the reality that even men who are heartfelt allies, who are fighting with us for our rights as full human beings, who have an intellectual appreciation of how integral the dehumanization of women is to our culture, can NOT see it as we experience it. Even men who are aware that the cultural definition of gender roles is a fundamental tool for maintaining that dehumanization, still reflexively default to assumptions about the role of the Y chromosome in creating differences between who men are, and who women are.

From this I have to hypothesize the extent and the persistence of my own blind spots from being raised in a racist culture. Because I can't see those blind spots from inside my white skin and my white experience. The pain I feel for the experiences of those who are not white will always be mixed with my own deep shame and sorrow and desire to escape the awareness of the privilege of whiteness that has dictated those experiences. My privilege.

Intellectually, I reject that privilege. Emotionally, I repudiate that privilege. Socially, I scorn that privilege. Politically, I strive to be aware of and demolish that privilege.

But on some deep, deep level, I fear losing that privilege.

On some level, having lived the experience of NOT having the privilege that would be mine if I'd been born with a Y chromosome, I'm terrified of losing 'the only privilege I have'. It seems like, maybe, it's my only compensation for the status of Superior Domestic Livestock that is allocated to us double-X chromosome types.

Let me be clear: What I want, what I am committed to, what matters profoundly to me on an emotional and spiritual level is making America a place where privilege is bestowed fully and equally on all of us by virtue of our humanity. Where we all have equal access to the choices and opportunities to earn greater privilege by virtue of our value to one another, or to lose our privilege by virtue of our choices to damage or disregard others' humanity. I am committed to that.

But in that blind spot, the blind spot of being white and female, fear lives.

I have to constantly remind myself of this, check it, look for its tracks in my unconscious choices and assumptions. It's work. I'm not complaining about the work, but nor am I overestimating my flawed human capacity to sustain the effort. I fuck up plenty. And try again.

I believe this experience of being white and female is at the root of some of the more toxic racism that white women perpetuate. A kind of frenzied psychic clutching at the half-privilege of being white, and a terror of losing that, if being white no longer bestows institutionalized advantages.

(Sometimes I ask myself: "Do humans who have a Y chromosome, but not the privilege of being white-- do they have a similar set of blind spots and fears?" Is there a kind of toxic misogyny that goes with being not-white but clutching that Y chromosome as the only superiority you have a baked-in 'right' to? I don't know.)

This awareness of blind spots is one reason why I am increasingly looking to women of color for leadership. It's not a fair burden to assign them, I know. Race and gender do not guarantee that a person will not have plenty of blind spots-- there are all those other privilege-meters we've established, after all. But I think they have a better chance at seeing clearly, and I appreciate all the women of color who are stepping up and providing leadership.

gratefully,
Bright

The Woman Without a Mask at the Emergency Dentist

Over the weekend my DH began experiencing pain in a tooth. Our regular dentist is an older man who has essentially shut down his one-man practice for the duration. So we called the "Emergency Dental Services" number in the phone book.

This number is shared by several practices who offer emergency services on a rotation basis. The first available appointment was at a large chain with an office quite close to home early this morning.

My DH has an issue with high gag reflex that makes almost any dental work painfully difficult, and he's learned to take a low dose muscle relaxant to minimize that. Which means he can't drive himself, so I provided the ride.

As I'm sitting in the waiting area, one or two other patients arrive, properly masked, and the (masked) receptionist screens them with a short series of questions, takes their temperature, and directs them to widely-separated areas of the waiting room.

Then The Woman Without a Mask arrives, and marches up to the receptionist, who immediately offers her a disposable mask. This all transpires without a word.

The Woman Without a Mask (TWWM) ignores the mask being held out to her, fumbles in her satchel, takes out a card, and holds it out to the receptionist, who reads it, and says "May I show this to my Office Manager?" TWWM hands it to her and the receptionist leaves with it.

A moment or two later the receptionist is back with (I presumed) her (masked) office manager in tow. The office manager hands the card back to TWWM and explains that this is a health care establishment required by law to have all staff and patients wearing masks in non-treatment areas and whatever manifesto is on TWWM's card does not overrule that law, and would TWWM please wear the mask if she is here for an appointment.

I'm sure y'all can write the dialog from there. "Freedumb". "This is a DENTIST and I'll have to open my mouth ANYWAY". And of course the "I can't HEAR you behind that mask, you're all breathless and indistinct and THAT'S the real risk".

And the office manager patiently reiterating that they cannot permit her to remain in the establishment if she won't wear a mask. Reminding her there's a pandemic raging in our town. ("Pandemic! More like PLANdemic!" ) Finally she leaves, muttering.

I said to the Office Manager "Why didn't you just explain to her this is a dental office, not a psychiatric facility?"

I think I gave them the best laugh of their morning.

wearily,
Bright
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