Defeating Privilege, Challenging Assumptions

(noon – promoted by Nightprowlkitty)

I’ve written before about the rather limited reach of privilege.  A conversation with a fellow writer and friend from Australia showed me yet another area where a lack of infrastructure, wealth, education, and crucial connections leaves people out.  Oversights like these which yell out for alleviation are all too common, but not terribly sexy in the way only a massive disaster can be.  While we were discussing LGBT issues, she mentioned a topic very enlightening and thought-provoking.  To preface, my friend identifies as bisexual herself and so she listened intently, and with much interest, to the words and phrases I’d been throwing around regarding my own identity and its many nuances.  Her immediate response raised another issue pertinent towards the need to spread resources beyond our liberal borders.  

She wrote,

…things in Australia are quite different- there’s a distinct lack of practical resources and support here, particularly in rural areas. Plus, a lot of books published in the States and directed at queer teenagers don’t make it over here- whether into libraries or in bookstores. So I think, in a lot of ways, we’re well behind the States when it comes to the stigma attached to identifying somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum.

I grew up in the American South, albeit the suburban/city part of it, but a lack of allies, support, acceptance, and understanding with the general public made me feel thoroughly behind the times and alone.  It wasn’t until I traveled outside the region and went elsewhere that I was aware of just how backwards my perspective was.  A few months back, I wrote a post that shared what it was like to attend a conference full of people from activist Progressive areas and to have audience with that sort of environment for the very first time ever.  The analogy I often make is this—imagine if you’d grown up in the Bible Belt (as I had), where liberal attitudes were never mentioned very loudly or boldly and certainly not much in public.  From that starting point, with no transition or preparation, I immediately entered a space full of agitprop activists from Berkley.  I can think of lots of adjectives to describe the experience:  jarring, unsettling, perturbing, discomforting, distressing, and many others.  I appreciated the experience, but it was definitely very different from that which I had grown up.  

It was assumed upon arrival that I would understand the basic concepts of queer theory (among others) which I, of course, did not.  To briefly summarize what I wrote in an earlier post, that particular conference was the first time I met someone who identified as transgender, which was only one small part of a massive and protracted culture shock.  As I read her response, I postulated that my Australian friend might have felt the same way at an earlier point in her life, perhaps even now.  I certainly wish she could have benefited from the same accepting, albeit slightly preachy space which quite nearly slapped me across the face at an younger age.  However, part of me also wants to make it plain to her that terminology and philosophy isn’t everything.

The most obvious initiative or action I could propose to address her concern would expand an existing network from which only a relatively few privileged people benefit.  Finding a way to transfer these necessary resources to parts of the world where they are needed would not be easy and these could not be the only step in the process.  Otherwise, it’d be much like dropping crates of self-help books in locations where rates of illiteracy are high.  Knowledge is useless without instruction and teaching.  Convincing a skeptical, perhaps even openly hostile populace would be also important to take into account.  I’m aware that what I’m noting here is totally obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people disregard common sense steps like these, only concerned with the optics, the path of least resistance, or both.

Don’t get me wrong.  Many people mean well and do good work.  Criticizing or lecturing people for being irresponsible or lazy is never my objective.  Rather, I think sometimes we get fixated on one particular cause that quickly snowballs, rather than using our imagination and creativity to accomplish the same altruistic ends elsewhere.  It’s often easy to raise money for a natural disaster, like Haiti, to cite one recent worthy cause.  Fixing Haiti, as we have recently discovered, is a headache of exponential quantity that will take years to turn around, assuming it ever will.  Giving thought and contemplation to more concentrated, smaller areas or causes might give us the ability to really see growth and needed change in our own lifetime.  Every activist wants to see direct evidence of hard work, myself included.  I might not turn around a poverty-stricken island nation, but I might be able to provide books, media, guidance, and a safe space for LGBT teenagers in a rural town in Australia.

As the saying goes, don’t sweat the small stuff.  If we feel helpless to change the the big problems, we often feel a tendency to micromanage and exercise veto power over a few trivial areas of no real importance.  For example, we might not know how to refurbish a room from top to bottom that has fallen into disrepair, but we can stubbornly demand our way by insisting that it be repainted whatever color we think best.  When others engage us in discussion regarding their choice of color, quite often counter-productive arguments break out and petty power struggles are the result.  This is what leads to stalemate and generally childish behavior.  Arguments over insignificant details is a big reason why many worthy projects simply don’t get off the ground or don’t accomplish what they seek to reform.  Though I was taught in Kindergarten that I ought to work together with others and clean up my own messes, many adults seem to have forgotten this.

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life–whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear.  Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?   Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?


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