A common theme in this week’s reading is finding ways to help those with privilege recognize that they have it – generally through symbolism. John Scalzi’s “Straight White Male – The Lowest Difficult Setting There Is” uses a gaming analogy. Peggy McIntosh, in “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” compares privilege to “an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.”
Sindelókë’s “Of Dogs and Lizards: A Parable of Privilege” uses an extended metaphor. In the story, a thick-furred dog lives with a small gecko. The dog controls the house temperature, and doesn’t understand why the gecko complains. When the gecko tries to turn it around: “How would you like it if YOU were cold?” the dog can’t conceive what that would be like. The real-life example is a woman saying “How would YOU like to be leered at?” and a man thinking “Hey, great!” because he can’t identify with how threatening it is – he only thinks it would be sexy.
Sindelókë did a masterful job of explaining how privilege hurts the vulnerable party in a way mysterious/invisible to the privileged one. BUT – the parable is set up in a way that it is impossible for the dog and the lizard to both live comfortably all the time. Being fair would need to involve some sort of schedule for who gets to set the thermostat when; I can imagine a rota, sort of like roommates deciding whose turn it is to do the dishes.
In this story, advantage (a term I think is more palatable to the privileged than “privilege”) is a finite commodity, a zero-sum game. The lizard thrives only under conditions that will make the dog suffer, and vice versa. My white liberal heart cried out for a scenario where both are happier than they were at the start, or at least not unhappier.
But in real life, this is unfortunately how it plays out sometimes: advantage is a football to be fought over and scored with, not something to share. Last year, an anti-bullying bill in Michigan went through several iterations that provided religious exemptions – critics called it a “license to bully” GLBT people. This year’s controversy over Chick Fil-A and same-sex marriage led to a tremendous muddle over who would “win” with more boycotts, support or protests.
damali ayo’s “You Can Fix Racism” project strikes me as a valuable guide for supports of gay rights as well. Re-reading it with Chick Fil-A in mind, her advice of “Resist drawing enemy lines” jumped out at me. What could have been accomplished if gay-rights supporters, instead of jumping in to score points, looked with sympathy at people who are afraid of losing their advantage/privilege/comfortable life, and found a way to reassure them?
Instead of boycotting the chain, would there have been a better strategy in patronizing it? A show that even though we’re politically opposed, we support your rights and understand your unease?
Is there a gentler way to say “get used to it?”