We Need To Talk About Privilege
October 22, 2012 in white feminism
By Natalie Ntim
So there have a been a couple of articles and ‘Twitterstorms’ about issues affecting feminism over the past few weeks – Caitlin Moran “literally couldn’t give a shit” about Black women’s representation and Medhi Hasan waded into the abortion debate, claiming that pro-choicers “fetishise ‘choice’, selfishness and unbridled individualism”. Now that the anger has died down, these debates have left me thinking about privilege and conversations about it – why is it so volatile and difficult for people to face up to when they’re called out on it? Why is it that sometimes, calling yourself a ‘feminist’ or ‘left-wing’ or being part of a marginalised group is seen as a get-out-of-jail-free card when you ignore your own privilege and make sweeping statements like Moran and Hasan have?
Privilege clouds people’s judgement on issues like abortion, women’s representation and violence against women. In Caitlin Moran’s case, as a white woman, her privilege means she simply can’t see why a huge group of women not being represented on TV is that big of a deal. Actually, I think that she’s smart enough to recognise her own privilege, but she won’t do anything about it. When she’s brought up on it, she won’t admit it and becomes really defensive. How can we deal with this when other women and men react in a similar way to Moran? How can we deal with this without it turning into a huge row (which is what usually happens to me!)?
The more we talk about how one person can be discriminated against for multiple reasons (e.g. being a Black lesbian disabled woman), the more slippery privilege gets – there are hierarchies within marginalised groups, where privilege is intertwined with marginalisation on a person by person basis. Would it be ok for a white atheist/secularist woman to be critical of Hasan’s Muslim faith during a debate on abortion because as a man, he is arguing about it from a position of privilege?
I know that as an educated, middle-class, straight, able-bodied Black woman who grew up in Greater London I am already in a position of privilege over others, but I am also still discriminated against and my voice, although heard more loudly than others, is still ignored by some. So I have lots of questions, but not many answers. All I know is that being aware of your own position of privilege isn’t enough. We have to act to tackle how privilege changes our own perception and call out others who aren’t doing the same, whether we are lefties, black feminists or activists in other movements for equality.