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 Post subject: "Privilege"
PostPosted: Thu Aug 28, 2014 7:15 pm 
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I split this off from the discussion about the Ferguson riots. VtF


A friend shared this on Facebook: http://alittlemoresauce.wordpress.com/2014/08/20/what-my-bike-has-taught-me-about-white-privilege/

A very patient explanation of why privilege and racism (or sexism) are not the same.

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 28, 2014 10:12 pm 
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axordil wrote:
A friend shared this on Facebook: http://alittlemoresauce.wordpress.com/2014/08/20/what-my-bike-has-taught-me-about-white-privilege/

A very patient explanation of why privilege and racism (or sexism) are not the same.


It's an interesting and fairly strong analogy - though for me much more relevant to the disadvantages I experience as a woman than the disadvantages I experience as a brown person. In fact I would go so far as to say that white women usually should not need the bike analogy to understand white privilege - they can just refer to their experience of lacking male privilege, just as gay white men can refer to their experience of lacking straight privilege. (Of course, there are other categories too, e.g., a disabled straight white man probably gets it through his experience of not having able-bodied privilege. Recently watched a great video by a white man (sexuality unknown) who had dwarfism and lived in New York City, where he was experiencing an astounding amount of harassment and prejudice. Etc.) The bottom line is, if you have any attribute that leads to your systemically experiencing disadvantages that the paradigmatic straight, cis, heterosexual, able-bodied white male of average height range does not face in Western society, you probably can just refer to that attribute to have some (albeit imperfect, since no two of these categories are alike) insight into what the other underprivileged demographics are experiencing. Otherwise, if you're privileged across all the important (i.e., relevant to daily life) categories, there's this bicycle analogy.

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They're whispering, "You're out of time,"
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 28, 2014 10:57 pm 
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I would guess the largest single demographic of people who need the bicycle analogy are, in point of fact, pretty much privileged across the board. But I'm afraid a disturbing number of white woman need it too, if the Facebook and Twitter accounts I see commenting are actually represented by their photos.

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 28, 2014 11:40 pm 
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That's a pretty good analogy, but I suspect that a pretty high percentage of those who it most applies to wouldn't understand it.

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 28, 2014 11:49 pm 
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Having both felt the lack of male privilege and ridden my bike in areas that aren't bike-friendly, I find this analogy very apt. Best case scenario when riding in a city where they don't see many cyclists is the cars just take no notice. It's easy to protect yourself from something that isn't looking to hurt you - and that also extends back into the privilege discussion (if you don't want to be raped, don't wear that outfit, if you don't want the cops to hassle you, cut those dreads or ditch that hoody, etc.). Worst case scenario is full-on hostility because only cars belong on the road or nice girls don't come here or this isn't the right part of town for you people or <insert excuse to be cruel>. However, even in bike-positive cities like Boulder assaults on cyclists happen. In my case, it's always people with out-of-state plates. This perhaps also extends to privilege - you can think you're in a location where progress has been made and those with the privileges are aware that they have them and are trying to at least be less in your face about it and then some FNG comes in with a cold reminder that you really can't get too comfortable anywhere ever.

So now let's paste this onto Ferguson. A bicyclist was killed by a semi. Other drivers are pointing out that the cyclist should have been paying more attention. Shouldn't have been on that road to start with. Wasn't obeying the rules. Or was maybe riding under the influence. Think about how the poor semi driver feels. And so on. The bicyclists, on the other hand, are seeing another of their group crushed under a truck. Again. And the drivers of vehicles are pointing the finger at the cyclist. Again. And the thing is, cyclists know that cars and trucks can kill them or hurt them and they know all the reasons why and the older more experienced riders know how to protect themselves but the younger ones don't and this sort of thing just keeps happening and everyday someone gets run off the road or yelled at or splashed or showered in gravel or almost creamed and then one day a cyclist actually is killed and boom. The rage bomb explodes.

BTW, speaking purely for myself, I became aware of the existence of white privilege in HS. We had a discussion in my senior year English class that caught me at just the right moment, I guess, and it's colored my thinking regarding race relations ever since. Male privilege was something I wasn't so hip to until I was in graduate school or maybe just starting my post-doc. There was an "oh-****" moment when reading a link posted here or on b77. It's interesting, isn't it, how a member of an a group lacking a certain privilege can just not even notice they're lacking the privilege?

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2014 1:17 am 
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I think "privilege" is an unfortunate term, as it makes people think of frills and extras, given for free. We don't think of Bill Gates as privileged, for example, because hey, he worked hard for those billions. As Terry Pratchett knows, privilege means private law, and that belongs to people who are way, way richer than we are.

What this is about is that basic rights, unremarkable when you have them, are being denied to people based on what they are, not what they did. We don't think of them as privileges, "something regarded as a rare opportunity and bringing particular pleasure".

It's a basic right to take public transportation, but #YesAllWomen have experienced that sinking moment when the man, obviously larger and stronger than themselves, just won't go away and you are afraid that he might follow you home, and it's getting dark.

It's a basic right to sit in your own car in the parking lot of a store, but a president of the student body of a fancy local private school got hassled by cops for doing that, because he just happens to be black.

And it is a right for an American not to be shot by a policeman in the middle of the street. Even if they may be suspected of a minor crime.

When told to check their privilege, people think of all the hardships they have overcome, and quite understandably they bristle. The point is, entire groups of other people have to overcome much, much higher hurdles to get to the point where they even can start having those hardships.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2014 4:58 am 
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The analogy extender I used, Frelga, was that someone who's not successful in a privileged group is like a person driving a 25 year old Corolla with bad shocks. It's still a car. Someone who's really successful in a non-privileged group can drop 20 grand on a custom racing bike...and they're still riding a bike. No amount of money can buy them a car, ever, so if somehow they manage to show up in one, people wig out and accuse them of being Marxist Nazi Kenyan Muslim Extremists.

There's always one "hardship" they will never be allowed to overcome, so long as the model of privilege exists.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2014 12:51 pm 
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I get defensive when I hear accusations of privilege. And it's not because I parse it as code for racist/sexist; it's because the implication is that I have something I shouldn't, and that the solution is to take it away from me. This is absolutely the wrong way to talk about the problem. Further, the subtle implication that freedom from discrimination is a privilege rather than a basic human right is terrible, and it should get everyone's hackles up. Where inequalities exist, the issue is not that white/male/straight/English-speaking/etc. people have too much; it's that others have too little.


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2014 1:25 pm 
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axordil wrote:
The analogy extender I used, Frelga, was that someone who's not successful in a privileged group is like a person driving a 25 year old Corolla with bad shocks.


I'm not sure whether this is applicable to the analogy, but that 25 year old Corolla with bad shocks is probably more likely to be dangerous to me on my bike than a new Camry (although a Prius has its own danger, because the darn thing tends to sneak up behind me without me hearing them). Actually, the most consistently dangerous are pickup trucks, for whatever that might be worth for the analogy.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2014 4:30 pm 
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I think ax was referring to which you'd be safer in in heavy traffic, not what's more inclined to be kind to a cyclist.

When it comes to judging cars I am sharing the road with, I tend to judge the plates more than the make and model. You don't have to go very far from the center of Boulder to reach communities where, if you want to get out of your driveway, something with good clearance and maybe 4WD is advisable. Some days, you need that just to get out of a parking lot downtown. The person driving said truck or 4WD isn't necessarily going to be a particular danger, though. They might even be your favorite barista. We also have a mix of people driving total beaters and people driving Jaguars and both groups probably have expensive bikes at home. However, the people who haven't been around long enough to roll over their registration probably also haven't been around long enough to understand that, unlike in other areas, bicyclists are common and while the smart ones stay on their guard (everyone using a roadway by any method for any reason should be on their guard) they do not behave like they're going to get smooshed at any moment. These are the people who've caused me problems either by almost killing me or verbally assaulting me because, in their minds, bikes don't belong on the road. Except we do.

BTW, I learned how to detect a Prius after getting snuck up on. They do make a sound. It's soft and different, but it is a sound.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2014 4:51 pm 
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Well, where the metaphor breaks down is that in this area most people who ride bikes are privileged in many ways, and freely choose bicycles over cars, usually part-time. They also bring their entitled attitude to the road, and while social laws should ideally be arranged to treat people equally, laws of physics aren't open to persuasion.

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‘There’s no greys, only white that’s got grubby. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.’
‘It’s a lot more complicated than that -’
‘No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.’
Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2014 5:15 pm 
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What River said. The Corolla allegory was this: no amount of money can buy you privilege. You have it or you don't. You can only buy expensive signifiers of privilege, which are not the same...and even those have barriers. Ask Oprah about the purse in Switzerland.

Frelga--at the risk of drifting too deeply into the metaphor, there have always been enclaves in which the dominant rules of privilege are abrogated within particular spaces and times. Think professional sports and popular music, or if you want an historical example, horse racing. But they have hard boundaries, and to a great extent they exist at the whim of the privileged outside them.


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2014 7:59 pm 
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I'm not actually sure what you mean, Ax. :D

Another place where the metaphor fails is that while it is true that the America infrastructure is designed for cars, bikes inherently need a different kind of infrastructure that is either meant to separate them from cars (bike lanes) or irrelevant to cars (bike racks on buses). With people it's more that some groups are walled off from the freeway and can't get on, or must drive a long way around over unpaved and steep trail.

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‘There’s no greys, only white that’s got grubby. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.’
‘It’s a lot more complicated than that -’
‘No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.’
Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2014 8:40 pm 
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2014 8:48 pm 
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Not at all. Because the only reason bikes are mixed with the cars at all is because we don't have the infrastructure to separate them effectively - the opposite of what we need to do about inequality.

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‘There’s no greys, only white that’s got grubby. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.’
‘It’s a lot more complicated than that -’
‘No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.’
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2014 9:22 pm 
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Okay, I feel like I just missed something...

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2014 9:41 pm 
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Did you miss the forest for the trees?

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2014 10:19 pm 
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Dave_LF wrote:
I get defensive when I hear accusations of privilege. And it's not because I parse it as code for racist/sexist; it's because the implication is that I have something I shouldn't, and that the solution is to take it away from me. This is absolutely the wrong way to talk about the problem. Further, the subtle implication that freedom from discrimination is a privilege rather than a basic human right is terrible, and it should get everyone's hackles up. Where inequalities exist, the issue is not that white/male/straight/English-speaking/etc. people have too much; it's that others have too little.


Privilege is exactly the idea that you have something that others have too little of but that everyone should have. E.g., as a man you are free to walk down streets without certain fears for your physical safety that women experience. It makes no sense to say that people are trying to take this privilege away from you: surely no one is contending that men should feel as scared as women while walking down the street alone late at night. Your defensiveness is both unfortunate and unnecessary to the extent that it is based on a misapprehension of what privilege means: no one is advocating that anything should be taken away from you, just that your privileges should not be exclusive to people of your demographics.

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I won't just survive
Oh, you will see me thrive
Can't write my story
I'm beyond the archetype
I won't just conform
No matter how you shake my core
'Cause my roots, they run deep, oh

When, when the fire's at my feet again
And the vultures all start circling
They're whispering, "You're out of time,"
But still I rise
This is no mistake, no accident
When you think the final nail is in, think again
Don't be surprised, I will still rise


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2014 10:37 pm 
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So that's what ax's post is about...

There is a boundary condition on the bikes on roads are to underprivileged groups as cars and trucks on roads are to privileged groups analogy. As has been pointed out, the bikers have typically chosen to be there and, in any event, at some point the problems bicyclists encounter comes back to the laws of physics. Natural laws are very rigidly and sometimes brutally enforced by nature itself. The best way to keep cyclists safe from drivers is to just give each their own space and to build and maintain this infrastructure in such a way that the bicyclists do not find the dangers of sharing a road with cars worth their while or vice verse. However, segregation has been demonstrably a bad idea when it comes to relations between races, genders, social classes, and creeds as it tends to produce a positive feedback loop in which divides get deeper and privileges get more extreme and next thing you know you've got strange fruit hanging from the trees.

x-post with nel. I'm responding to Voronwë.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2014 10:52 pm 
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I'll admit I've long found the use of the term "privilege" in this context rather strange. I understand what people mean by it but it feels like the wrong word. I think the term has weird connotations that are unhelpful and counter-productive in these discussions one of which is precisely that it's not something everyone can or even should have. For example, I don't think of a general public education as a privilege - it's supposed to be freely available to everyone - but going to Harvard is definitely a privilege - it can only be available to a select few who have to earn it.

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