On Intersectionality & Privilege: BONUS!


I was at the pub last night… Wait. I have never started anything with that line. I have to make the most of it.

I was at the pub last night, not drinking, and getting frustrated because the kitchen had closed and mama wanted curly fries. And by “mama” I mean ME, of course. Even though I’m not a mother. Nevermind…
The guy at the bar offered me “crisps” instead. And I gave him a look that said “do I LOOK like the kind of person who will settle for crisps when she wants curly fries?”.

I’m digressing here…

So, I was the pub last night not drinking and I got chatting about intersectionality with a handsome young man…

Wait. As you can imagine, this line has never been written before in the history of my writing career… I better make the most of it too.

I was at the pub last night not drinking, and I got into a heated argument with a handsome young man who understands and appreciates “intersectionality” as a political concept. Since I don’t, we clashed.

And clashed. Until, through the magic of woo woo, I began to listen and actually understand why he appreciates intersectionality and “privilege”.

The result surprised me.

Privilege checking as a personal tool

It turned out that he was using the concepts on the “personal” level.

This young man, whom we’ll call “Rafael” (because I like it better than his real name), spends a lot of time in the grassroots political world.

And as a white male, he needs an “intellectual tool” to make sure he doesn’t default back into the position of “white male who knows better than everyone else in the room”.

He gave me an example. When he’s in a table surrounded by women, he has to “check his privilege” and consider whether he’s “talking too much” or he’s telling other people what to think, or is implying he’s right and everyone else is wrong. That kind of thing.

If this is what people mean by “checking your privilege”, then I’m cool with it.

The important thing to remember is that this is a “personal tool”, useful only when we interact with other people on the “personal level”.

This might be a good time to point out the Self-Help Maxim of “whatever helps you”. It goes like this:

If a concept helps you, then please go ahead and use it as much as you like. Just keep in mind that it’s helping *you*, and it may not help someone else.

Because “People Vary”.

Sure, if checking your privilege helps you better interact with people who are less “privileged” than you, then by all means, check your privilege as much as you want.

But remember: privilege checking will not change the world.

Rafael could go and ask all 3.5 billion men in this world to “check their privilege”… but it would not end patriarchy.

Because patriarchy, and capitalism, are complex systems that kinda live “above” people, and need complex political actions in order to change.

Having lots of people working on the “personal” level will not change them. It’s annoying, but it’s what it is.

But what if “checking your privilege” doesn’t do it for you?

Ah. Now *this* is interesting. *rubs hands together and readies to launch into a full on theory rant*

See, there are some perils with the whole “checking your privilege” thing: in order to do it, you have to be “emotionally OK”.

So, Rafael can totally acknowledge his privilege if he’s in a table surrounded by women. Cool beans.

But what happens if a hot, tall, rich white man walked in and he lost all his marbles and had all his “stuff” triggered to kingdom come?

If he was anxious and hurt and scared and whatnot, he would not be able to check his privilege. Because when “stuff” gets triggered, it needs all our attention. And if there is one thing you don’t feel like doing is thinking about the people who “have it worse than you”.

For example, I am known to go into a full rant like this: “I don’t care if this person is homeless and a hopeless addict, I bet they don’t have a mother like mine who wishes they could just have a successful job already!!! I HAVE IT SO MUCH WORSE THAN THEM!!!”.

Ah, yes… when “stuff” descends into the scene, all sense of perspective goes out the window…

There is another way…

“Checking your privilege” might work well for the Rafaels of the world, but for the emotional nutcases like… yours truly? We need something else.

Something far easier to remember, something that will always work under all circumstances:


You can just about go ahead and tattoo this line on yourself… ideally on the inside of your eyelids…

When you meet yourself where you are, you acknowledge how you are feeling in all circumstances.

  • Surrounded by men and feeling invisible, like you aren’t respected and valued and never will be?
    Then that’s where you are. You acknowledge that and you meet the pain.
  • Surrounded by women, all of whom would be ideal candidates for your mother’s daughter role and would do a much better job than you?
    Then that’s where you are. You acknowledge that and you meet your pain.
  • In the presence of people whose skin is darker than yours, which triggers ALL your “stuff” about how you are hopelessly hideous because you are “too dark”?
    Then that’s where you are. You acknowledge that and you meet your pain.

If you’re like me and you have “stuff” in just about every human interaction possible, you need the concept of “meeting yourself where you are”.

Because the ultimate goal of “checking your privilege” is nothing but basic human compassion.

And human compassion always, always starts by being compassionate to yourself first.

When you learn to do that, you automagically feel compassion for every single person with less privilege than you, and you will automagically respect them and value them.

And if you can’t? You go back to meeting your pain. And you wait… it will happen eventually.

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