Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Privilege of Ignorance

In the phase of society and culture that we have arrived in there is a lot of examination of privilege.

So I will dare to ask this question:
Is it a form of privilege to have been raised in an environment of physical non-violence? And is it okay to ask for a bit of understanding from people who have been protected from that for the damage done to those who grew up getting the shit beat out of them all the time?

I can't even believe I'm asking this question, but it's been bothering me for months now.

I understood it when people wouldn't be sensitive to it because it was so goddamn common, when it wasn't called abuse it was discipline. I also understood when it was a matter of something to be hushed up, not acknowledge it as really happening.

Because even in those situations there was a tacit understanding that yeah, kids were getting the shit kicked out of them on a regular basis. We grew up with violence being done to and around us. Some of us were protected more than others, some had no protection at all.

And in the 80's and 90's there was a cultural shift and suddenly a ton of kids were growing up in a world where beating your kids wasn't called discipline anymore, and the casual violence that reigned in so many of our homes didn't get passed down in that same way. Although I don't have statistics, I can say that I've observed that, at least, and read about it, and listened to people talk about it.

So, there is this generation of us, scared and scarred, veterans of violence from our parents, relatives, teachers, and friend's parents, and...

But there are kids growing up now who have no idea, which brings me to this incredibly strange question of privilege.
Do we assert ourselves and confront the kind of privilege that ignorance of all the damage that violence has done, become outraged when someone jokes about violence, or start crying when someone makes an unserious threat (or serious, because how the hell do we know)?

That seems like a dangerous thing to do when you grew up in a world where doing so would ensure that you got the shit kicked out of you again.

And so we do what we've learned to do when violence enters the picture again. We run and hide in the deepest, darkest place we can find a bit of protection in.

It's a lonely sad place, but at least there we can be safe.

This allows a lot of ignorant people to think that those jokes or "unserious" threats are no big deal. And maybe they aren't... to them. But they are a super big deal to anyone who understands what happens when it's very serious, very real.

Is it necessary to go so far as to call ignorance of the consequences privilege though? Is it necessary to draw lines, to set up a situation where you draw boundaries and force apologies from people who are "just joking" or "not serious"? The thing I come back to when I ask myself that question is - what are the consequences to the people who go through their life wondering when that joke is suddenly going to be not-a-joke anymore? What is happening to the people who flinch when another person makes a sudden move or shifts their weight in a sudden way?

And when you consider that it's not just the kids, it's the veterans, it's so very many people who have experienced terrible things done to them.

To stay in ignorance of the consequences of that, to not fucking care enough to try to understand how we might help each other live in less fear is, I think, a privileged dick-move.

I am super happy that there are people who do get the privilege of growing up and living a life that is safe and happy. They have lessons to teach us, ways of viewing the world to share. But wrapping themselves in an ignorance so that they carelessly will say and do anything they want and that it shouldn't matter to someone else is beyond foolish. It hurts people, which is the golden heart of what the privilege movement is about.

What you do matters to me - whether it's good or bad, it matters.


  1. So what's been on your mind lately? :D

    1. You know, there is that situation, but it's part of a much bigger picture of a lot of things that have been happening as we'll as some other musings I've been having at seemingly unrelated things that I've synthesized together with it.
      I think the latest "Roderick On The Line" podcast (@RoderickOn) really helped me figure out how to say what I really wanted to say about this. It's not enough for me to rail at particular situations, I have to figure out a way to frame it in the larger context and get all pompously philosophical about it, lol!

      I turned 40 this year, and my old-and-tiredness is providing a certain perspective, but also a lot of intolerance for shenanigans that don't get to the heart of the matter. I'm not willing to spend time on the small performance art things that some people seem to care about.
      Does it matter?
      Do I need to do something about it then?

      If the answer to any of those is No, I won't be spending time on it. I certainly won't risk anything for it.

      It's taken me months to figure out why this is worth talking about to a larger audience (such as it is, larger audience being defined as anyone other than me).

      "Lindsey's don't hit, they hug." This statement has been a guiding principle of our family's life for 16 years (as a phrase, the principle was around long before I met Roland). The "Why" of that has a story behind it that applies to more than just this family is what I've come to. But when you bring it down to the personal level, it does matter more to this family, and in particular certain members of this family. And if that "Why" isn't allowed to be part of their story then it's a betrayal of ourselves.

      Seriously, I'm starting to get very comfortable with the expressions of shock certain people display when we say "Stop treating us like shit". As long as it keeps happening, I'll get more and more used to it and I have a feeling I'll come to enjoy it, lol!

      For so long it's been about hiding from violence, verbal and physical aggression. "Get along, don't be a target, there's something wrong with me." But as I've gotten more comfortable with the notion that I never did, Roland never did, you and John never did deserve the violence when we were kids, the violence, verbal and physical that has and is being offered now isn't so easy to justify it anymore. Being adults, we now have more tools to protect ourselves from it and we're not doing anything wrong by using them.