Wednesday, July 17, 2013

On Privilege and Fear

Melissa at Shakesville has written a great post on privilege and fear.

She articulates so much of what's been going around in my mind since the Zimmerman verdict, noting:
"...[T]he sustained fear of being hurt, being victimized, being exploited—unexpectedly, at any moment, and most frequently by people one trusts—is something that the very privileged do not know intimately, the way the rest of us do. 
Privileged men's lives and the lives of marginalized people are very different in that way—and that difference underlines privileged men asserting that they have a right to feel safe. And law enforcement, and the courts, agreeing with them. 
Because of this difference, most marginalized people learn how to live their lives against a backdrop of present threat, to a soundtrack of the dull roar of constant fear. For the most part, we learn to ongoingly process fear as we move through our days on such a subconscious level it's as natural as our hearts beating without conscious thought—women, for example, position our keys in hand as a potential weapon and scan deserted parking lots for signs of danger and size up dates in search of anything dangerous with the ease that we execute any one of thousands of other routine daily tasks."
It seems as though, because of this implicit right to feel safe, many privileged folks end up articulating their aggression as "self-defense," whether they are acting out because they "feel threatened" by scary young black men or are inventing social movements that purport to defend "traditional marriage" from scary same-sex couples.

[Content note: guns]

I remember last year when a gunman shot a guard outside of the Family Research Council, a moderately-well-known, very privileged, and conservative white woman articulated to me how she suddenly felt a real fear of violence because of who she was and what she stood for.

It was as though, now that the violence had happened once to someone she could identify with, the state of living in fear was suddenly very important.  Suddenly, civility and toned-down rhetoric, at least to and about people like herself, became very important. Yet, previously, I hadn't seen her express a care in the world that people like me, LGBT people, are a bit more frequently victims of violence and that lots of really awful stuff gets said about us, too.

As the weeks went on, even as she continued to defend, befriend, and ally herself with people who say horrible things about LGBT people - things that I believe contribute to hostility and violence toward LGBT people - she urged the LGBT community to tone down our rhetoric lest people like herself become victimized.

Anti-gay conservatives like her felt attacked and threatened and scared.

Some purported LGBT allies further entitled these anti-gay conservatives' mentality that it's primarily they who are under attack, suggesting that LGBT people and other allies need to take it easy on individuals and organizations that dedicate themselves to degrading the dignity of LGBT people - while not also suggesting that, say, maybe the Family Research Council needs to take it easy on us for once.

I don't doubt that the feelings of people of privilege are authentic when they express fear. Sure, sometimes it's probably a facade, but other times they likely are feeling fear. Fear is not a fun thing to experience, but I agree with Melissa that it's a part of daily life. What we are or should be entitled to is to actually be safe, not to never feel fear.

Yet, mainstream narratives condition the privileged to fear the marginalized, and to feel justified in attacking the marginalized because of this fear.

In the context of gay rights, the exchange with the woman above demonstrated to me how very manufactured the anti-gay movement is. The fear of pro-gay politics, after the shooting, seemed new for them. It seemed new despite the many years of fear-mongery blustering about saving the children, saving the family, saving marriage, and saving "Judeo-Christian" values, and saving society.

It was as though this woman hadn't already been truly, legitimately scared.

How nice for her.

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