Because of your privileged position, are you missing out vital information? The other day I was talking with my friend while eating breakfast. We were talking about the Gay Pride March which was on the following weekend and how I wanted to go to it again this year. I mentioned how there is a group from the Uniting Church who always take part in the march in support of the LBGTIQ community and that I tend to join this group. My friend then made an interesting claim, that marches tend to do the opposite to what they aim to do. Implying that any such event was a waste of time, citing that when their parents saw televised gay marches in the late 70s, rather than becoming accepting of that selection of the community, they were further “put off of gay people because of their over-the-top ‘put-on’ flamboyant behaviour.” Yet, they couldn’t see that people marching were expressing who were they were. It reconfirmed for me that being in a privilege position, actually makes it difficult to understand the behaviour of people in minority groups. I tried to explain that we need to be aware of our position in society we hold and the perspectives we have adopted based upon them.
The conversation moved to them questioning why wasn’t there a ‘straight’ march? “Like it’s ok for them to have their own march, why not us?” They couldn’t comprehend the purpose and need for such an event. My friend exclaimed, “they now have the same rights as us. They want to be treated the same as us, but they still want to be treated differently too.” I tried to explain that we often only see things from our own privilege position and perspectives, thus we can fail to see things from other’s perspectives. Therefore, it is easy to say, “Everything is better now days. We are now accepting of all, so people like them should just move on. If they want to be treated equally, well they should live like us!” Again, I tried to explain we need to be careful when making judgment statements about minority groups, such as gays, black, immigrants and disabled, we need to try to understand their perspectives before saying that everything is ok because it is not.
Attempting to help them to open up their thinking, I told of my experience of having a disability and going out in public, being constantly exposed to negative attitudes towards my disability. Her quick come back was, “Oh! Com’n Darryl! Society has moved on from all that years ago!” I responded, “No, and that is exactly what I am trying to explain to you. Seeing things from our mainstream privileged perspective we can often fail to see the struggles of the people who are being oppressed.” Then I went on to explained that most people with disabilities have to deal with ableism, discrimination based on our disability. Yet, even though she had been a support worker within the disability field for some years, she couldn’t see it, even out with her clients who have disabilities. She didn’t see this kind of discrimination. I ensured her that most people with disabilities, may play it down at first but would agree they are exposed to this discrimination. Often, it is subtle but constant. I pointed out, that from her mainstream (privileged) perspective she could find it difficult to see the ableism we experience. But, from mine, as a person with a disability, it was blatantly in my face each time I go out. Becoming apologetic, she said she had no idea about the amount of negative attitudes we receive on a daily basis. I tried to explain again, from her privileged perspective, it was hard for her to see it but from mine I could recognise it.
However, I then said to her to imagine walking into a hotel bar fill of big muscly men and she was the only female there. When I asked her how she would feel, even though they would probably be friendly enough, she admitted that she would feel somewhat uncomfortable. We both acknowledged that the men would try to make her feel included and none of them would overtly discriminate against her, possibly because they would be in fear of others putting them back in their place. Nevertheless, I suggested that if you ask any of the men sitting at the bar if there was any discriminatory behaviour occurring there in the bar, it would be likely they would deny any form of discrimination occurring. It would be also likely that they would claim that they were actively trying to make her feel welcome, but she would still feel the subtle vibe of not belong in there. I think that this was the point the penny started to drop for my friend, she began to comprehend the point I had been making.
So, if you find yourself making judgment statements about people who are in a minority group, be careful. Are you missing out on important information because of your privileged position?