The view from privilege

Posted: May 29, 2012 in feminism, queer, race

Often are minority groups presented with the little canard I like to call “the view from privilege”. It’s a simple ditty, really, that anyone can learn:

But you can’t be objective on this topic, you’re a(n) [queer/ethnic or cultural minority/woman/disabled person].

The hidden assumption here is that the view from privilege is the one that’s objective, not the view from under oppression. The view from privilege isn’t what happens when privileged people make observations, rather, it’s the assumption that privilege is objective, the same way that the view from nowhere in the press is the assumption that no view is ever objective. Sometimes the view from privilege is jaw-droppingly obvious, at least to most of the world: consider complaints that a gay judge couldn’t overturn California’s proposition eight forbidding same-sex marriage because as he was gay, he was biased. Are they proposing that a straight judge couldn’t have upheld it either? No, of course not, straight people are always unbiased. Wink. Welcome to the view from privilege.

But it isn’t always so obvious. The view from privilege can manifest in odd ways- for instance, it’s often internalised even in equal rights advocates, so they can doubt that their own experiences are valid until someone of privilege agrees. When I say that privileged people often need to be in a supporting role in fighting against oppression, this is the kind of sad reality I’m talking about- oppressed people may often require validation that their views and criticism are reasonable and real.

In some ways the phenomenon of gaslighting, a term used to describe when men manipulate the environment around their partner and say they don’t notice any change, is a prime example of people buying into the view from privilege- it can feel easier for women exposed to this sort of manipulation to ‘acknowledge’ their own insanity than question their partners.

There are two really simple steps to fighting this idea: Listening to people who aren’t privileged, and validating them when you honestly feel they have a point. It sounds simple and easy, but in a media culture where increasingly people have to doggedly search for minority viewpoints, we can dismiss those people we actually meet and know as outliers instead of the reality.


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