A few thoughts on privilege and power

A RUMINATION ABOUT PRIVILEGE AND POWER,  A brief shout out to some of my teachers: Ken Hardy, Ann Bradney, bell hooks, Toni Morrison, Arnold Mindell, Patricia Hill Collins, Gloria Steinem and to my parents and to many inspiring friends and peers like Taylor Mac, Alan Aja, Lynn Nottage, Sarah Schulman, Vini Bhansali, Lucy Thurber, Morgan Jenness, Polly Carl, Daniel Alexander Jones and to my students who are also my teachers, who light the way. Too many to name, but that's a few. While this post is not authorized by any of those people, nor would they even endorse my thoughts perhaps--I am the one accountable--I do want to recognize their words have enlightened me over the years.

AS WE discuss privilege and entitlement more and more in public and private fora, it's worth thinking about the differences between institutionalized privilege, individual privilege and in-the-moment privilege because all of these are not (always) the same.

Depending on where we are--environment, circumstances--our individual privilege can shift in relation to how one self-identifies and how that relates to the group in which we are surrounded by at any given moment.

For instance, if I, as an educated queer white atheist female bring an educated straight white christian male into the following groups, how might his understanding of or identification with his own privilege shift if he is in a category of one in the following:
a) a group of women of all ethnicities
b) a group of LGBTQ of all ethnicities
c) a group of men of color
d) a specialized group of all people who have a skill and a knowledge he does not possess and cannot grasp
e) a neighborhood where he knows no one and no one resembles his external identity.

In our U.S. patriarchal and white-celebrated culture, this man is viewed as privileged, but I'd like to suggest, as many others have, that this privilege is not absolute on an individual level. There are many ways in which this man may be and act entitled, absolutely. Many instances of oppression he does not feel or observe. But, even with this in mind--there is a difference between group identification and self-identification and the individual does experience things differently according to circumstances.

Privilege is, in one sense fixed, while simultaneously situational. To me, the interesting piece is how aware we are about our moment- to-moment interactions. In what ways can we make space for continually marginalized people to claim their voices, and in what ways can we extend whatever confidence in our abilities we hold--regardless of categories--to encourage those with less confidence to take up space, to be heard, to have the space and time to speak in a way that is on their terms? Can we do this on the bus, in a classroom, in a boardroom, at a barbecue, among strangers and peers? It is this give and take--in myself and in others, that I am drawn to. As we go about our day, where are the places that we need to speak up and claim our voices, and where are the places we need to hang back and let others lead and join the conversation? 

winter miller