We live in a world in which certain people are born into a sex, race, religion, etc that brings them more privilege and more opportunity than those around them. While we argue over what those privileges are and what they entail, most people are beginning to at least acknowledge their presence. This is the first start toward fixing the inequalities.
What should be the next step? I feel like the next step after acknowledging inequalities and recognizing one’s own privilege is to work out in which ways one can help reduce the inequality and help to create a world in which everyone has access to the same opportunities. I’m pretty certain that this is the end for which most people are fighting (probably in more eloquent terms).
So, naively (it would seem), I would suppose this next step would involve working together with everyone else who recognizes these inequalities and privileges so as to work to best create a more equal society.
This is where things don’t follow the direction I would expect. Currently it seems like we are all too obsessed with the past and with blame. Women (please note that I know I am generalizing here, just insert “some”, “many”, “all”, “a few” at your own convenience) spend their time attacking men for “creating” the patriarchy and for having privilege because of it. Black people blame and attack white people for slavery and the racism that is still inherent in our societal structure. Members of the LGBTQA community attack cis-het people for living in a world were heterosexuality is viewed as the norm.
Fine, we live in an inherently racist, sexist, homophobic society and those of us who are white, male, or straight do in fact benefit from that. This is the privilege that I am talking about. That is bad; this is not the way it should be; there should be a change. But what is arguing about the past and whose fault it is going to do to change that?
Is getting a man to admit that it’s men’s fault we live in a patriarchy going to change anything? No. It shouldn’t be about blame and guilt anymore. It should be about change.
For a really light (in comparison) analogy: Think about when you’ve had a really big fight with someone to whom you’re really close. You’ve been fighting for hours now, yelling back and forth about whose fault X was. It was your friend’s fault and you want to get her to admit it. Once she’s admitted it you then want to get her to admit it some more. Then you want apologies (lots of them) then more admissions of guilt, and then admissions of how her behavior has screwed you over. This goes on for hours. Your friend knows she was wrong, knows she hurt you, and feels really bad about the situation. She wants to fix it, but you’re not giving her any way to do so. All you want to do is make her feel bad and keep admitting blame.
This is a lot like the privilege situation. For as long as we keep obsessing over who is at fault and who benefits in the present we are not going to be able to really work towards fixing the problem. Going back to my fight analogy for a moment. Have you ever been in the situation of the friend? Where you were wrong and you feel bad but the other person just won’t let it go and it’s been hours of yelling? What can end up happening? You, the friend who did wrong, winds up resenting the other person because of all the guilt and the blame. You know you are in the wrong but there is currently no way to fix it and the person isn’t going to stop yelling. What do you do? You might give up, walk away, not even bother to try and fix the problem because the other person just makes things so miserable.
My point is that we all know obsessing over our own past mistakes isn’t going to get us anywhere. While we may do it occasionally, most of us try to focus on the future and moving forward. I don’t see why social problems shouldn’t be any different. We know who has the privilege and who doesn’t, we know who is suffering from inequality and prejudice and who isn’t. Let’s stop obsessing over whose fault it was and attacking those who have privilege; let’s put that energy towards all becoming allies to fix a huge societal problem.