A couple of years ago, I got into a pseudo-argument with a friend about the nature of “asking.” I had recently discovered that when I was polite and friendly, I could ask for anything from anyone, and the chance that I would get my way was high. I didn’t think I was being manipulative. I thought I was being brilliant, finally realizing that discounts, preferential treatment, exceptions, etc could be mine if I asked the right way. I also thought that, a la Lean In, women sometimes undermine themselves by not asking, and that I was overcoming a gender bias by being more forthright in my requests.
My friend argued that, while not intentionally manipulative, I was burdening other people with my “needs” (not really needs, random wants and momentary desires). Not just burdening other people, but especially burdening people (service providers, retail clerks, waitstaff, etc) who are, structurally, not really allowed to say no to me as a wealthy white girl.
I’m not entirely wrong, but it’s a pretty weak argument. The whole scheme hinges on the idea that you’re asking for something that is up for grabs. By claiming it, you think, you’re not depriving somebody of it, or taking someone else’s spot, or claiming more than your share. Except, 9 times out of 10, you probably are. The “asking” thing is only a fair way to engage with the world if you assume that everyone steps to the table with the same set of privileges and skills, but we know that is basically never the case. That also assumes, of course, that you want the world to be a fairer place…
I was reminded of this conversation by Jen Dziura’s excellent Medium piece this week “When Life Hacking is Really White Privilege.” Go read it right now, I’ll wait.
Then you should you read my latest for Role/Reboot, which attempts to pull together the Dziura, Black Girl Dangerous’ new post on how to combat your privilege, and how by focusing on one’s lack of one privilege (say… gender), we can forget about the advantages we are afforded by the privileges we do have.
Related Post: How Pax Dickinson missed the male privilege boat