I’ve been thinking about privilege a lot this week, how it isn’t a binary position and how most of us are probably to some degree privileged and to another disadvantaged. And then today, when not thinking about much of anything at all, it suddenly occurred to me that when I see a friend’s avatar online and it does not have their face on it, I assume they are white.
This normalization of whiteness – white people as the default – is a part of white privilege I’m still largely blind to. During the years when my physical ailments were less disabling, or even during my high school years when I walked with a cane and was visibly disabled, I could not imagine the suspicion and scorn of people who bear invisible disabilities (like I do now.) Very few people look at me as a 28-year-old and think “She’s got rheumatoid arthritis! That’s why she doesn’t work outside the home!” People who voice their uneducated opinions at me usually doubt I am ill at all, and imagine I am malingering for the fun of it. (Oh, and all that money that’s apparently to be made in being crippled.)
I can see where the male mind or male experience is privileged and normalized in our culture. One need only remember back to Sonya Sotamayor’s confirmation hearing to be reminded that the white male experience is normal, while the Latina experience is “biased.” Then there’s that pesky persistent wage gap between men and women. It’s easy to see the privileges that negatively impact me – male privilege, able-bodied privilege. It’s harder to see the ones that secretly benefit me.
I am struggling to be aware of my privilege, so that I don’t accidentally bludgeon an oppressed person with it. The openly hostile people who call me a liar for having a disability in my youth, well, they are clearly assholes. But what about the people who are fine with government cuts to Social Security for Disability payments? What about people who scorn the idea of socialized medicine for a large world? What about people who embrace economic and social theories that completely forget about disabled people? They may not even know what pricks they’re being.
I worry I’m a prick without knowing it. And yet I’m terrified of opening the floodgates and asking women of color (and men of color) where I’m wrong, scared it will be too much.
I’m Angie and I look white. When I’m not conscious of it, I assume you do, too. Sorry for that.