As the protests over the killing of George Floyd and countless others continue and Pride month comes to a close, it is time to acknowledge the profoundly dehumanizing effect of holding one or more marginalized identities in our stratified society. This, and other difficult discussions, have been serious omissions in our blog for various reasons, all of which likely ultimately point to the privilege of myself, our blog moderator, as a white cis-gender woman in a heterosexual relationship.
The aim of this post is to acknowledge my privilege. In doing so, I acknowledge that this, in and of itself, does not substantially further the cause of marginalized people and is in some ways a salve for my guilty ego. Despite that, failing to acknowledge it seems to be the worse evil. I have the luxury of not having to consider my own race on daily basis, and of being able to assume that I have the support of our culture in the people that I love. While there are countless privileges and advantages associated with my group identities, I’d like to address the important factor of having control and power over my own visibility.
Being Black or Brown is generally a visible identity. As a white woman, I can move through my day expressing my professional identity one moment, my mothering identity the next, and so on. I could not begin to fathom what it would be like to go through life wearing my identity so publicly and yet having to be wary about its impact on every potential relationship and interaction. I could not imagine the fear of being pulled over in skin you cannot shed that realistically could lead to your death in the next few moments. Simultaneously, I know that at times Black and Brown people can alternately feel invisible as people, lost among the stereotypes and assumptions that have to do with their group identity.
Having a marginalized gender or sexual identity is by nature hidden unless, either volitionally or involuntarily, it is exposed. Here, again, it is difficult to grasp the enormous complexity of having to make these types of choices about such central constructs as who you are and who you love. Not just once, but on an ongoing basis with every person that you meet. It must also be exhausting that the default position is defined by heteronormativity and cisgenderism, placing the onus on anybody who doesn’t fit these narrow constructs to either disclose or attempt to conceal. In contrast, when I show up someplace with my husband I can expect that people will respect us as a couple and treat us accordingly. When people make assumptions about my gender and sexual identities, they are not missing or misunderstanding a central component of who I am and who I love. When I assert these identities, I can expect to be met with understanding and acceptance.
Acknowledging my privilege
I am sure that I cannot, and have not, adequately conceptualized or explained the true impact of having one or more marginalized identities. That too is part of my privilege. The prejudices and discrimination faced by many have been implemented and perpetrated for generations. It is easy to feel helpless and small against such forces as systemic racism, homophobia and transphobia. I often do. But it is my hope that acknowledging my privilege in these areas will add a small drop to the monumental and much more important efforts of others in working to eradicate denial about these pernicious forces in our society.