This post may contain affiliate links. But hey! I only promote brands and products that I really trust and love.
Why am I talking about race, gender and privilege?
As many of you know if you’ve been with Uninspired for a while, I’m in a graduate program for marriage and family therapy. And honestly, I talk about it all the time, especially in terms of how what I’m learning relates to being a twenty-something, which is what Uninspired is all about. But something that I haven’t brought up yet is what I’ve learned about privilege. Mostly, I’ve learned how it affects therapists and clients in the therapy room. But it all translates into how we should treat people in all areas of life. And of course, learning how to treat people is completely relevant to the goal of Uninspired.
I want to start by saying that I am not an expert on race, gender, or privilege.
But, as you’ll read, marginalized groups need allies from the majority to help them advocate. And, if I waited until I was an expert to start speaking out about equality, I never would. I’ll never have the experience that a black, gay, hispanic, trans, or many other marginalized groups have, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t voice my support or share what I do know. And of course, as we are in times of change about what is acceptable and what is not, I’m always open to learning more and changing my mindset. In fact, I welcome anyone with more experience on these issues to let me know if there are places I can improve in my understanding.
Please tell me in the comments if there are things you disagree with, or things you agree with! What do you have trouble wrapping your mind around? Maybe we can chat about it. And finally– what else would you add to this list? How can people with privilege better understand people of color, people in the LGBTQA community?#.5- Talking About Race, Gender and Privilege Can Be Triggering
Before we start, I know this stuff can bring up a lot of feelings for both marginalized and privileged people, and I want you to have the proper resources available to you before you read on. Whatever identity struggle you’re having, I know you can work through it as long as you’ve got the right support. That’s why I compiled this list of mental health resources that I’m offering you for free. It’s full of hotlines for lots of different situations including substance abuse and trauma, as well as online counseling options through BetterHelp. BetterHelp is a great option for people who are struggling but don’t have enough time or money to visit a therapist’s office. Check it out and get a free 7-day trial with this link. And don’t forget to claim your list below!
10 Things This White Woman Knows About Race, Gender and Privilege
1. I have privilege.
Yes, I have worked extremely hard to be where I am today. But that doesn’t mean that someone else didn’t have to work harder because of the color of their skin, what parts they have down below, or who they love. I can admit that.
I can admit that because I am white, no one’s judged me for the color of my skin (in a way that could seriously affect my life). Also, I am heterosexual, so no one ever thought my S.Os were gross (well, that’s not entirely true, but that’s another post). I’m cisgender, so no one’s ever yelled at me or looked at me funny for being in the wrong bathroom. I’m middle class, maybe even upper-middle, so my parents were able to help me pay for college and a car. I even belong to the dominant religion in the US, so no one has ever persecuted me for my beliefs.
I’m saying this to show that knowing I have privilege does not equate to admitting I’m a bad person.
Many people who have privilege deny it because when it’s acknoweldged, you feel kinda icky about it. But let me tell you: you’re not a bad person for having privilege. No one understands more than marginalized people that you can’t help how you were born. It’s just that the dominant groups have the privilege of being able to act like where they came from doesn’t matter because they had no control over it. Marginalized groups are reminded every day that where they came from matters because racism and sexism and homophobia etc. all tell them that it makes them a lesser quality human being, even though they had the same amount of control as the dominant groups.
For example, my white privilege means not having to think about what my ancestors did for me to have the position in society that I do. Look around, and you will find nothing labeled as white culture. While many mainstream things are white culture because that’s who participates in them, they are never labeled this way. I just learned this a few weeks ago, and while it seems like common sense now, it blew my mind. I’d never had to think of it that way because I am white.
2. Not all privilege is the same
The second thing I know about privilege is that there are lots of different types. If you’re heterosexual and cisgender, you have gender privilege. You could have Christian privilege because Christianity is the dominant religion in America. You could have class privilege if you’re born into a wealthy family. Or you could have white privilege if you present as white. Having privilege does not mean you don’t have problems. It just means you’re in the majority in a certain domain, and in that area, you have more perks than someone who doesn’t belong in that group.
A white person with no money, for example, has white privilege but not class privilege. They get the perks of not being judged by their skin color, even though they may be judged for their clothes, cars, etc. Others may still judge them harshly or incorrectly. They may still have extremely difficult lives. But one thing they won’t have to deal with because they’re white, for example, is racism.
If you’re now thinking, “umm, I’m white and a person of color has been racist toward me,” let me tell you why that’s not cool.
A person of color cannot technically be racist toward a white person because racism implies something systemic and institutionalized. When a white person refers to a black person by the n-word, it’s worse because it piles on top of what white people have already done to people of color. When a person of color makes a racially charged comment about a white person, there’s no slavery or genocide or withholding of necessary resources backing it, so the word for that is just rude. And when a white person calls something “reverse racism,” it invalidates all the struggles that marginalized people have been through over time.
3. Being racist or sexist or misogynistic, etc. does not only apply to those who actively hate marginalized people.
There’s a movie called Color of Fear, in which eight men of different racial backgrounds talk in a group therapy setting about their experience of America. One white guy was particularly stubborn about the idea that racism doesn’t exist, and everyone was super pissed at him, until the therapist asked what it would mean for him if there was still racism.
He started to tear up and he explained that he just couldn’t believe people could be so cruel to fellow humans. At the heart of what looked like a careless, racist person was someone who struggled really hard with the idea that people could be so mean to each other. He just didn’t have the emotional tools to deal with that struggle in a healthy, helpful way because his white upbringing didn’t give them to him. So, he unfortunately tried to pretend it didn’t exist, which ended up making him into the very embodiment of what he believed didn’t exist.
While the current political environment has made many feel comfortable speaking on their actively hateful views, the majority of racism and other types of prejudice we see today comes from people like the guy in Color of Fear. That being the case, the focus has shifted to this quieter, but radically larger population of people who simply ignore race and gender issues. Because they don’t talk about them, they end up making a lot of small mistakes called micro-aggressions which, when piled up over the years of a marginalized person’s life, can really wear them down.
Micro-aggressions are often committed by well-meaning people, but they are still contributing to keeping marginalized groups from having equality. It’s like assuming a black teenager holding a baby is the mother rather than a babysitter, even if you’d like to help them. Or that a guy who is gay automatically super flamboyant, even if you think super flamboyant gay guys are tons of fun and awesome. You’re still putting them in a box that may not apply to them, and over a lifetime, that can be pretty suffocating.
I say all this to help white people understand that you can be perceived as racist even if you have good intentions. If you accidentally offend someone, hear them out on how you hurt them. I promise, the encounter will be less uncomfortable that way.
4. I should always ask my questions.
It’s true, the lingo changes a lot because we’re still learning about race, gender and privilege. And it’s true that being PC involves having to remember a lot sometimes. But when in doubt, just ask! Ask people what they prefer you to call them. Ask people with experience what the polite way to go about something is, etc. People will appreciate you taking action to get it right instead of sitting quietly, hoping you don’t offend. As with anything else, learning involves making mistakes. As long as you don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over again, you’re doing okay.
On the off-chance that someone doesn’t appreciate your being explicit about race or gender issues, and you’re sure you were PC, recognize that some people may still be struggling with their identity. People go through stages of accepting their identity, especially when their identity isn’t treated right in society. If they’re not at a comfortable stage yet, they may not respond well to you. Try to feel for their struggle rather than getting offended that you made an effort and it wasn’t well-received.
5. I am not “colorblind.”
When people say that they “don’t see color,” it kind of erases everything that they’ve been through, ya know? By saying that we don’t see people of color, (or people in the LGBTQA community) for who they are, we’re saying we don’t acknowledge their struggles. Which is counterproductive because, as stated in fact #1, being able to deny what white people have done to marginalized groups is a part of white privilege. This saying just exacerbates white privilege. We are trying to say that we accept them as part of our group, but first of all, that’s simply not true in our society right now, and second of all, they don’t want to be part of our group. They want us to accept their group.
I notice when someone is a different skin color than me. I notice when someone is different from me. It is okay to notice when someone is black or hispanic or asian, etc. Or gay or trans, etc., not that this fits with the colorblind saying. It is how I act on those differences that matters to people of marginalized groups.
6. Women are sadly not equal, even if some feel that way
Ahh, the one area where I have actual knowledge of being the marginalized one. When we talk about how women got the right to vote in 1920, we’re really talking about wealthy white women. Women of minority backgrounds all got the right to vote in stages later on. Even once the 19th amendment stated no one could be banned from voting on the basis of their sex, there were still ways around it. Technically, Mississippi didn’t ratify the 19th amendment until 1984, which is probably when your parents were in their twenties. We are not as far past blatant inequality for women as people think.
Like with other types of inequality, gender equality may be more subtle now, but it is not gone. Take equal pay for example. The argument I hear is that lots of women’s weekly paychecks look the same as their male equivalents. First of all, you’re lucky. That’s not the case everywhere. Second of all, your weekly paycheck may be the same, but average in a maternity leave or two and see if your average is lower than a man’s now.
Now, I recognize the argument that the woman isn’t working, so some believe she doesn’t deserve paid time off. While I disagree with that on an emotional level, I can even logic out a way to balance the scales if we keep unpaid leave for moms: unpaid leave for dads. If it were more acceptable for men to take leaves when they had a newborn (which, why shouldn’t it be if both parents are equally responsible for raising a child?), pay equality would increase because both parents would be taking similar amounts of time off.
7. Gender is not sex, and sex is not gender.
Sneak a lil’ peek down below– whatcha got down there? That’s your sex. The parts you have are your sex. Your gender is what you feel in your brain or heart that you are. Sex is physical- from your parts down below. Gender is intellectual– it comes from your brain up top. We know that sex and gender are different because of what you’ll see in the next point– someone can be gay and not trans, and vice versa.
8. In that same vein, trans and gay are not the same
This might seem super obvious to some, but some people assume that if a man is gay, he is automatically super feminine and/or wishes he was really a girl. Perhaps this comes from media representation of LGBTQA people, or perhaps we emphasize qualities in a person that help them fit our understanding of the world. Or maybe it’s something completely different. In any case, LGBTQA issues are not all the same. Being gay does not mean a person wishes he was a girl, or even that he has super feminine qualities. It just means he’s attracted to men. Same goes for women who are lesbian.
We know this is true because there are cases where people’s sexual preferences don’t change when they transition their sex. For example, someone may transition from male to female and still be attracted to females. Or, someone who was gay and trans may transition from male to female and still be attracted to males. Yes, therefore becoming technically straight.
9. There are lots of letters in the LGBTQA alphabet soup, and more are on the table.
Before you freak out, just remember point #4. No one expects you to always know everything, but a kind, open-minded person should ask if they don’t know, or listen if they make a mistake. Here’s a breakdown of the current letters:
L- lesbian. A female who is sexually attracted to other females
G- gay. A male who is sexually attracted to other males.
B- bisexual. Any person who is equally attracted to both genders.
T- trans. A person who wants to change their physical parts to match the gender they feel they are.
Q- queer or questioning. Queer is a general term to describe someone who is a part of this community. Or, in another sense, it could describe a person who doesn’t fit neatly into one category. Questioning means the person is still figuring out their gender identity.
A- asexual or ally. Asexual means the person does not feel sexually attracted to anyone. This is the more common use. Ally describes someone who identifies as cisgender or heterosexual, but still supported this community. Since asexual people are the marginalized ones, they need the identification more than allies who may have a place in other communities.
Another letter that some people add is I, for intersex. Intersex is when a person was born with a mixture of male and female parts. This can manifest in lots of ways, some obvious and some not. Some people who are intersex aren’t on board with being part of the acronym, so they don’t always add it.
For Pride Month, Equinox filled in the entire alphabet with letters that could represent members of this community. If you’re interested in all the ways gender differences can manifest, check out this article and video.
10. People who are marginalized need people of privilege as allies
It’s not fair to force oppressed people to both fight through their adversity and then advocate as well. Especially not if we also expect them to be calm and understanding while they do it. People of color, people in the LGBTQA community, and any other marginalized group need us to help in this fight.
You don’t have to write an article. You don’t have to shout from the rooftops that you’re an ally for marginalized people, although you certainly can. Seriously, you just have to be mindful of what assumptions you’re making about people, and be open to making mistakes so you can learn. The key is the learning part. And if that seems too hard for you, I would encourage you to sit with those feelings of frustration, or maybe even process it with a therapist. Does it bother you because, as a person with privilege, you lose some of it if other people have it? Is it because it would hurt to have to face the fact that you have privilege at all? Something else?
This fight for equality is not an attack on people who have privilege. In fact, marginalized people want people with privilege to fight with them for equality. What can you do to join them?