*If you’ve got some privilege that you don’t want to own, you ain’t gonna like this post.*
Bear with me: if we can survive this — if we can manage not to get blasted into nuclear winter — if we can stay above water for the next four years — Donald J. Trump might be the best thing that’s happened to Americans in half a century.
Notice I didn’t say America. I said Americans. And for a good reason.
In the last ten days, Americans have taken to the streets in record numbers, marching and protesting for their rights as citizens of this country. Markedly present for these demonstrations were white folks. All of a sudden, white Americans have realized that they too might have something to lose as a result of this administration. For too long, white Americans left the fighting to the groups that were forced to fight, while the rest of us crusaded for justice via social media. For those not in affected, marginalized groups, justice can easily be left to cocktail party banter and Twitter likes. Optimistically, I don’t believe it stems from racism, as much as an inability to empathize with true oppression. After all, white America hasn’t dealt with it since … well, basically since America became a thing.
I’ve realized a lot about privilege in the past month or so, especially when it comes to my own.
Am I categorically the “weaker and oppressed” gender? Yes. I am.
I am also a straight, cisgender woman.
Am I, on paper, a minority? Yes. I am.
I also look like a tan-skinned white girl that has spent some time on the beach. I’ve never feared for my life or my rights because of my skin color.
Am I statistically paid less than my male counterparts? Yes. I am.
I also came from an upper middle class family that was financially able to assist me through college and law school, and while I’m swimming in student loan debt, I make a pretty decent living.
I knew all of these things before, but I hadn’t rolled it all together and synthesized it all until recently.
I started feeling the tug of unrecognized privilege when I was at a reproductive rally on Saturday. The Arkansas Coalition for Reproductive Justice, in response to the state passing an overly-burdensome abortion bill, organized a rally on the steps of the Arkansas Capitol, garnering around 600 people pushing the government for our right to choose. Lord knows I’m an advocate for choice. I am pro-child, pro-birth, pro-adoption, pro-abortion, pro-assistance, pro-mother, pro-birth control, pro-sex ed. I support you having a baby; I also support your abortion. That will never change.
I know what I want for reproductive rights as it relates to my own body, and I suppose I had limited that to bodies that looked and were built similar to my own. Until the incredible Rae Nelson got up to speak and smacked me upside my damn head. Rae is a transgender Navy veteran who began transitioning male to female a few years back, and she spoke about the difficulty with which the transgender community may gain access to birth control and safe care. For some reason, in all of my time of championing to support different causes, from marriage equality to church/state separation to abortion, this issue, this melting pot meld of an issue, didn’t come to my mind. I knew women in the South had an issue gaining access to abortion, but I lumped everything I deemed as women into that group, not fully realizing that not all women are treated the same. It simply didn’t register with me.
Because it didn’t have to.
Because no matter how strict abortion laws get, as a cisgender woman, I am statistically more likely to find a safe provider of abortion than a transgender person with female reproductive organs would.
As a white woman, I’m more likely to gain access to a safe abortion than a woman of color.
And I think, deep down, I knew that, but I didn’t know that.
To use the parlance of our times, my ass got woke.
That continued into Saturday night and Sunday, when EO 13769 was signed, and everything that America has ever stood for went up in flames. When good people are shut out of a country that claims to find its strength in diversity — one which was founded because of a desire to be free from religious persecution — because of a slightly different skin color and knowing God by a different name, you can take your star-spangled bigotry and shove it. This isn’t about protecting America; it’s about whitewashing it. It finally overwhelmed me then, the darkening cloud of privilege.
I recognize privilege easily in others. Because I’m a member of a class which is often at the wrong end of it, I could see how privilege affects me, in my own state, in my own body. I could see how straight, white, Christian male privilege affects basically everyone that isn’t a straight, white, Christian male. But my own? I didn’t see it. I stupidly believed that because I had the markers of the oppressed that I couldn’t possibly play any role as the oppressor. Privilege is a spectrum, guys, and it’s always hardest to see inward.
I sat in stunned silence for a little while this weekend. When the weight of it hits, it hits hard. The best of intentions, pure though they may be, don’t amount to a hill of beans if you’re unknowingly shutting out members of the class you want to protect. To be clear, recognizing privilege isn’t about guilt. I didn’t sit in silence because of shame- I sat in silence because I was surprised with myself.
You haven’t done anything wrong by being born white or male or straight. None of these things are choices. Recognizing privilege is simply understanding that possessing any of these traits affords you more than if you didn’t have them.
I know there are people out there who believe that white people are losing everything. They are simply wrong. If white people are losing, who exactly is winning? Not the innocent young black boys being shot dead by law enforcement. Not the Hispanic immigrants who work tirelessly to support their families for less than minimum wage, while being name-called and terrorized. Certainly not members of our Muslim community, and this weekend’s actions prove that. The only thing white people are losing is the ability to be racist without pushback. If you are one of those people who believe this, please, please tell me: if it isn’t the white community in charge of everything, who is?
At the end of the weekend, this is what I realized.
While I’m tossed in the shitpile of certain legislation, I’m in the golden throne for most. For all intents and purposes, I sit in at least the passenger seat of power; I’m not being dragged behind the tailgate. I will continue to fight for the issues that affect me, but I will do so with open eyes, with a greater understanding of my fellow fighters and their stories. I will work so much harder to advocate in intersectional feminism. People are not firmly rooted into one compartment: female, minority, disability. Many, many cross into multiple areas, and I promise to do better to support that. I will use my position as an attorney to help in any way I can. When I was sworn in to practice law in Arkansas, I took the following oath:
I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Arkansas, and I will faithfully perform the duties of attorney at law.
I will maintain the respect and courtesy due to courts of justice, judicial officers, and those who assist them.
I will, to the best of my ability, abide by the Arkansas Rules of Professional Conduct and any other standards of ethics proclaimed by the courts, and in doubtful cases I will attempt to abide by the spirit of those ethical rules and precepts of honor and fair play.
To opposing parties and their counsel, I pledge fairness, integrity, and civility, not only in court, but also in all written and oral communications.
I will not reject, from any consideration personal to myself, the cause of the impoverished, the defenseless, or the oppressed.
I will endeavor always to advance the cause of justice and to defend and to keep inviolate the rights of all persons whose trust is conferred upon me as an attorney at law.
I don’t take that lightly. Those words make up one of the most important promises I’ve ever made, and if I break that promise, if I’m willing to not do my job because of the political climate and what white supremacy relabels as national security, I need to get out of the legal profession, and so does anyone who is willing to sacrifice that oath because of their own personal beliefs.
The bottom line is this — even though I have my own hurdles, I also possess some privilege in this world, and may God have mercy on me if I don’t use that privilege to help those who don’t. I’m sorry that it’s taken a while for my ass to get actually, truly woke. It’ll be a long four years, but I’m ready for it, and so are millions of Americans who won’t stand for intolerant, unconstitutional bullshit. There are good people who are willing to fight, and I’m still trying to figure out how to be one of them. Please check me if I get lost in the navigation.
♦ If you are in Northwest Arkansas, check out Canopy NWA. I signed up to sponsor a refugee family a few weeks ago through Canopy, and it is a fantastic organization that needs your support.