On Intersectionality & Privilege: Part 5

The “Really Personal” (read: spiritual)

As you may have read, the whole “privilege” meme kinda started from the publication of Peggy McIntosh’s “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” (pdf link).

In it she writes about her experience coming to terms with the realisation that, as a white woman, she has “advantages” that people of colour do not have.

Most people read that text as a political exploration of racism.

I don’t see the text as “political” so much as “personal”… A personal account of the experience of realising that some people are perceived to have less worth than her.

Here’s when I go all hippie woo woo. The realisation that “some people are perceived to have less worth than you” is a deeply personal, tender and painful process.

All spiritual stuff is personal. And as such, it’s impossible to explain to others. So you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Realising that you are perceived by society to have more “human worth” than other people is a seriously moving experience.

How moving? Tears, kinda moving. Hugging yourself, kinda moving…

And having your heart filled with sheer love for all humanity, kinda moving.

Of course you can only experience it for a split second, but it’s enough. You have felt it: someone, somewhere actually believes that you have more “human worth” than that person over there.
And you feel the pain in your heart, because your heart knows this to not be true. Your heart cannot conceive of you being “more human” than this other person there.
And so you cry.

When you get down to it, “acknowledging your privilege” really hurts. But not because your “ego” gets bruised… (The ego cannot “acknowledge its privilege” in any meaningful way) But because you feel, in your heart of hearts, that you are no different from the next person, that their pain is your pain, and you love them… because they are also “you”.

You realise that “things” that make up “status” mean nothing… because we all hurt.
And before you know it, you don’t think of yourself as better than this person. Or that person.

And that feels amazingly liberating. You no longer have to fight and fight to be “better”. It’s ok to be you and to be flawed.

Writing about this experience really doesn’t do it justice. But it’s all I have. I cannot hand my heart over to you so you can feel what I’ve felt.

You must feel it in your own way, in your own heart.
You’ll probably cry. And that is good.

Of course I’m not done “working with my stuff”, I still have a ton of work to do in this area. But I’ve done enough that I can tell you what it looks like.

I cannot say whether McIntosh’s experience has been anything like this. For all I know, she was writing about race.

But my intuition tells me that she took the topic into the “personal”, meaning, she took it into her heart and had some kind of realisation or transformation happen.

The problem is that everyone read the text and assumed that we can force people with “privilege” to go through a similar process of self-awareness.

NO-SUCH-THING.

That’s impossible. It’s absolutely impossible to force anyone into the spiritual path. Can’t be done.
Believe me, lots of prophets have tried before you.

Of course, having caught a glimpse of how freeing and transformational this “privilege acknowledgement” process can be, I seriously wish it on everyone.

Because, when it comes down to it, if seriously privileged people where to have their hearts moved in this way, they would be so much happier. Not to mention that the world would change in an instant and we could all sit around the fire and sing Kumbayah already.

But no matter how good this process is, how transformative, how healing, how freeing…
it cannot be forced on people. Not even on people who need it. (I know… BUMS.)

THIS, my friends, is how “acknowledging your privilege” can be done for the better.

And if you try to do it through using your conscious mind, that is, running through the “logical, rational arguments” for why you have it so much better than other people, you are going to end up with guilt, resentment or shame, at the very best. And it’s only a matter of time before it backfires.

The answer, as cheesy and hippy as it sounds, is to acknowledge it with your heart. But not forcing it. You will only be able to do it when you’re ready. And that’s good enough.

Thoughts for the road:

The Personal
If you feel resentment because someone else is more popular than you, or they have something you want, give yourself some kindness. We are human, we feel envy and jealousy, and it’s normal. It hurts, but it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It means there is something you need that you are not getting. Find a way to meet that need.

The Political
Drop “privilege” as a political concept. Use “power” instead. Power will have you thinking about actions. And that’s how we effect change.

Big Disclaimer to End all Disclaimers!!!

I am publishing this stuff because I believe it will help people.

If it doesn’t help you, makes you angry, has you throwing furniture at the wall and tripping over your cat, then please drop it. Drop all these ideas. Seriously, if tthey don’t help you, they are not doing their job. And your wellbeing is more important than any political theory.

This writing is very much a first “draft”.

It would take me a long, long time to write down all my ideas on these topics, then rewrite them, then edit them… and I have a life to live and a business to run. Also, it’s sunny outside.

These material would need a book to be explained fully and I don’t have time right now to write a book.

(But if you want happen to have one of them fancy “6 figure book deals” everyone talks about and you want to offer it to me, that would be lovely)

Point is: these ideas are not “polished” and not finished.

So if you don’t understand them, that’s ok. They took me a long time to absorb, I wouldn’t expect anyone to understand what the heck I’m on about in such short time.

If you disagree with me completely, then that’s ok too.

Again, you have full permission to disagree with me. I give you full permission to say “Mary is wrong!”. It’s no big deal. And again, if they don’t help you, just drop them.

I am practicing non-attachment to my ideas. So if people don’t find this stuff useful, I may just remove it.

2 thoughts on “On Intersectionality & Privilege: Part 5

  1. I love all this series of posts! The privilege thing has grated on me for years but you articulated why far better than I could have.
    I think you’re bang on the nail that Peggy McIntosh bad a personal moment.
    Mine was on a bus. I hadn’t lived in London long, grew up in white, white, white Tory land (ugh).
    So I got into an argument with a black woman on the bus. She thought I’d pushed her in tge rush to get on, I thought she’d pushed me. Whatever happened, the glasses I’d just bought got broken. Maybe just the crush but I was upset and needed to Blame and she counter-accused. Yup, tired stressed people, London is bad for your mental health…
    Anyway, before I knew it police were there.
    I got sympathy and a free ride home. She did not.
    Click. I realized this was because the police will always (usually) side with the white person. I had race (and class) privilege.
    This concrete example has made me a nicer person, more aware and likely to call out racism when I can. Naff all I can do to address police institutional racism though.

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