A Primer on Privilege in 500 Words or Fewer

When I wrote my last post, I got a few questions about privilege. Since my fellow Tea-Servers are in the middle of finals and moves across the country, I figured I’d explain to the best of my limited ability.

And because my last post was so long, I’m going to attempt to do this in 500 words or fewer. Game time!

Privilege Starts with Power

Power is the ability to influence your world. This works both on micro– and macro– levels. People with power have the most influence over their own lives as well as the ability to shape the larger world. People with power have more authority in any given situation than those who don’t. Their opinions are respected more. Their experiences are considered more valid.  The kinds of experiences they have are inherently shaped by their power.

Power is Inherited

Power tends to concentrate and grow. This is particularly true for sociological power, which is not obvious to most. When a system is created in which people with certain characteristics are valued above others, a cycle is created in which the next generation of people who have those characteristics obtain that power without even really knowing it.

Inheritance is Systemic

Who gets power and who doesn’t depends entirely on the society that is constructed, and that is not something that individuals control. There is no mastermind waving a wand, and there is no conspiracy. Oppression is societal — the result of massive numbers of actions combining to create patterns of behavior.  Most people who have power don’t realize it, didn’t ask for it, and don’t know how to acknowledge it.

Systems Create Power

Large-scale patterns of behavior that favor particular groups of people over others generate people use that power (however unconsciously). Use of the power reinforces the system. Those group narratives become favored over others, unrepresented narratives become undervalued, and the power remains with the groups of people who had it in the first place.

And so on, and so forth.

For Example…

I criticized Lindy West for not acknowledging her privilege. Lindy West is a self-described middle-class white woman. Because she has power, the ways racism effect her are patently different than the ways racism affects others. Racism affects real people in serious ways. There might be things that people of color would prefer to talk about instead of hipster racism. Maybe hipster racism isn’t all that important to them. Instead of asking this first, West wrote about racism with respect to how it affected her as a white person, without acknowledging the desires of people who are more seriously affected by it.

More importantly, because she has the privilege of a white person’s perspective, people listened. She used her privilege to shift the debate from topics that peoples of color might have wanted to talk about to topics that she as a white person cared about. By doing this, she perpetuated the cycle of privilege.

And that’s not cool.

(497 words, including this sentence — word.)

5 Valid Questions People Ask About My Appearance That Are Totally Annoying

There’s been a lot of talk about race and racism in the past week, on this site and others, and I thought I’d keep the conversation going.

Race has always been a topic of great interest to me. I’m bi-racial; my mother is “white” (one of the most vague terms used to describe race), and my father is Chinese. I’ve never had a hard time grasping my bi-racialness, but it seems to baffle others.

Below are five questions I’ve heard way too often. These questions bother me because no one asks me about my “white” side. No one is interested in the fact that my mom owns a farm in Kentucky or that we raise cows. Everyone is far more intrigued by my Asian side. Because I’ve heard them so many times, it gets old, but these questions actually lead to some pretty good anecdotes on my part. And on further reflection, I’ve come to realize that these are all pretty valid questions.

The Asian’s in the Eyes?

1. What are you mixed with?

I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard this one. Often, I hear it from people I’ve just met. This past weekend, I met a guy on a train who thought it was perfectly acceptable to ask this. I kid you not: he turned toward me and stared at my face for a good 15 seconds. Awkward. He guessed right on his first try, “definitely Chinese.”

It’s not that I find the question offensive, I just find it an odd thing to ask before you even know someone’s name. I’ve never felt the urge to go up to a single person and asked what they’re “mixed with” because I detect a stereotypical trait on their face.

2. Do you speak Chinese?

This is usually a follow-up to Question #1. The answer: no, no I don’t. I did not attend Chinese School, my dad didn’t speak Chinese to me when I was a kid, and he still doesn’t. People are always surprised when I tell them I only know a couple words in Chinese. My response is usually met with, “It’d probably be useful if you did.” Yes, thank you, I realize being bilingual is a useful skill in today’s world. Unfortunately for me, I am not bilingual, but go ahead and tell me how awesome it would be if I was.

3. Is your mom a tiger-mom?

This is a hard question to answer. First I have to preface my answer with the fact that my mom is not the Chinese-half of me. Is my dad a tiger-dad? Sort of. He never deprived me of food in order to get me to play piano (although I did have to play until I was 16), but a lot of my childhood memories involve my dad pushing me to learn math. One of my first memories is my dad carrying me to the car from my babysitter’s house asking me the square root of 9. Until recently, I was unaware that Easter eggs didn’t have to contain a math or spelling question. Maybe my dad had a little “tiger” in him, but growing up with an Asian parent isn’t the torture some in the media like to portray it as.

4. Are your parents mad you’re pursuing journalism?

Let’s face it, Asians are not well-represented in the journalism profession. Whenever talk of school or work comes up, people assume I’m pursuing a profession in medicine or something similar. As far as I know, my parents are okay with my pursuit of a career in journalism.

No, I’ve never seen this in real life.

5. Have you been to China?

Again, the answer to this question is a sad “no.” I’ve not yet had the opportunity to travel to China. This question is another bizarre one. I’ve never asked any of my “white” friends if they’ve traveled to the land of their ancestors. This question is another that seems to be reserved for minorities only.

My slight annoyance at the above question comes from a strange place. I’m glad people are interested in me; it’s just irritating that people fixate on my Asian-ness. People always seem shocked when I remind them that I’m just as white as I am Chinese. Of course, this isn’t something I’m unable to get over, just an interesting quirk in our society that I’ve discovered as a halfsie.

A Complete Guide to ‘Feeling Superior and Deflecting White Guilt’

[Editor's note: As should be abundantly clear by now, the opinions expressed in posts on Serving Tea to Friends are those of the authors and not of the other writers or editors. We encourage our writers to explore their opinions and express them here—that's what this space is about. That being said, please read West's article (also linked below) before critiquing this one. If you still have beef, we want to hear about it. Comment here, on Facebook, or email us at teatofriends@gmail.com. Hearts, Lyzi and Anna.]

By now it seems that everyone on the blagoblag has read  “A Complete Guide to ‘Hipster Racism’” by Jezebel columnist Lindy West. I’ve read it three times now. Honestly, when a coworker tossed this article my way I didn’t think much of it. Then I saw my friends reposting it on Facebook, and skimming through the comments I saw droves of people saying “This” over and over, and I suddenly became very concerned.

Like West, I believe people need to call each other out on their bullshit, and I’m afraid I might have to step up and do so here. So, I have for you today:

A Complete Guide to ‘Feeling Superior and Deflecting Your Own White Guilt’

Step 1: Pretend to Acknowledge Your Privilege

Good little self-conscious citizens of the world know that you always have to acknowledge your privilege. This, of course, means you have to simply state that you are a white, middle class, suburbanite. The more obscurely you do this, the better. If you can put it in a footnote at the end of your rant, that’s best, but at least put it in parenthesees (emphasis mine):

It’s the gentler, more clueless, and more insidious cousin of a hick in a hood; the domain of educated, middle-class white people (like me—to be clear, I am one of those) who believe that not wanting to be racist makes it okay for them to be totally racist.

 or set off in em dashes (emphasis mine):

People benefit from racism—hell, I benefit from it every day—and things that benefit powerful people don’t just suddenly get “fixed” and disappear because Halle Berry won an Oscar or whatever.

Pay as much lip service as you have to in order to get people to believe that you have humbled yourself, but do not spend more than a sentence on it. Under no circumstances are you to actually think about how your privileged position affects what you have to say and that by drawing attention to things that matter to you as a person of privilege that you might be damaging the cause you are pretending to care about.

Step 2: Trivialize the Oppression You’re Addressing

Your goal here is to make everyone who doesn’t agree with you feel like a complete imbecile. You do this by stating that racism is so simple that even you understand it. Better yet, say that it’s made up! Comparing it with a mythical figure is best.

Race is one of the least complicated issues that there is, because it’s made up. It’s arbitrary. It’s as complicated as goddamn Santa Claus.

Be sure to ignore the fact that there are entire fields of academia devoted to race and that race intersects with sex, class, and gender in a myriad of different ways that increases the complexity of the issue. No, my friend. Race is ‘made up.’ And anyone who doesn’t see that is idiotic. This allows you to elevate yourself above all the plebs you ridicule.   The more people who agree with you, the more superior you can feel. You can all be superior together.

Step 3: Isolate a Group of Other People who are ‘Bad’

The key to feeling superior and deflecting your white guilt is focusing as hard as you can on people who do something that is ‘bad.’ Because of step 1 and step 2, whether or not these behaviors have any relevance to people of color’s lives is now irrelevant. Your task here is to take the guilt that you feel for participating in and benefiting from a system that favors you and shove it onto a group of people who are popular to make fun of.

Hipsters. Pick hipsters. Everyone fucking hates hipsters.

Be sure to ridicule this group of ‘bad’ people as much as you can. Everyone hates them, so it doesn’t matter how they feel.  By focusing intently on what they  do that is perpetuating the disgusting racist cycle, you are now completely absolved from thinking about the things that you do that perpetuate the racist cycle.

Step 4: Protect Defenseless Minority

As we all know, people of color  are poor, ignorant, defenseless people who have absolutely no ability to write, read, or criticize those who wrong them. They don’t have a community of people or a diverse set of leaders from different places in the political spectrum who can speak out against the atrocity that you have identified. Therefore, you MUST use your power to defend what YOU think is the greatest threat against them: the inane conversation of your friends.  Be sure not to listen to any particular individual person of color in the vicinity who might have his or her own thoughts about such statements. S/He can’t have an objective opinion on the matter. Because racism is so simple, and because you understand it so thoroughly, you are adequately prepared to defend that person’s honor.

Better yet, write an article.

Step 5: Profit

Publish your work for a site widely read by white people so that there are very few people who will call you out on your bullshit, because they are so busy attempting to deflect their on white guilt. They will upvote, share with their friends, say “This.” over and over again, and perhaps get into a debate about whether ‘thug’ truly applies only to black people. This will get you and your website millions upon millions of hits, which your advertisers will love, and you will rake in 1 cent more per hit than you did before. Not only that, but now not only are you  not-guilty, you are in fact far superior than you were when you started out.

Don’t you feel better now?