My favorite thing I’ve read this week is the apology letter from David Roberts at Grist after he referred to a former Anthony Weiner intern as a “hobag” on Twitter. Read the whole thing, please, but highlights:
“This is the key first step in a bout of White Dude Privilege Syndrome, especially the specific variant of White Liberal Dude Privilege Syndrome (WLDPS). Very few bouts begin with deliberate sexism or racism or heteronormativity. We are not thinking sexist thoughts! Our intentions are pure! We love women! Some of our best friends are black! We are good people, dammit!”
“The first step in WLDPS therapy is for the sufferer to acknowledge that it does not matter what was or was not in his head, or what he “really” meant. Part of privilege is the deep conviction that one is the absolute authority on one’s own mental states and thus the dictator of one’s own meanings — no one can tell you what they are, what you think, who you are, man. You don’t know me! We privileged dudes have trouble accepting that language is a social phenomenon, a social act, and meaning is created collectively, in the spaces between and among people. When you use language that is freighted with social meaning, you are responsible for that meaning, even if you did not “intend” it.”
Man, it’s so fucking smart. When we talk about privilege, we are often referring to the very tangible–wealth, stuff–or the slightly less tangible–sense of security, education. What Roberts is pointing out is that the underlying girders of privilege are not external, but rather deeply personal, “the conviction that one is the absolute authority on one’s own mental states and thus the dictator’s of one’s own meanings.”
What do we mean by that? Take the case of currently beleaguered mayor of San Diego, Bob Filner. Filner’s been accused by nine women of sexual harassment and is clearly struggling with the discrepancy between how he viewed his actions (“behavior that would have been tolerated in the past”) and how they are perceived by others (inappropriate, illegal, gross.) See Stephen Colbert’s excellent “Oppressed White Male Alert.”
Similarly, Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper is trying to recover from an ugly incident in which, agitated, he yelled at a Kenny Chesney concert, “I will jump that fence and fight every n***** here, bro” [Note: Cooper is white]. His response to the appalled and upset reactions of his fans and teammates suggest that, like Filner, he’s having trouble reconciling what he knows about himself and how his actions are being received. “I’m hoping we can rally around this and my teammates will be behind me and I’ll get through this,” he said. “This is not the type of person I want to be portrayed as. This isn’t the type of person I am. I’m extremely sorry,” he added. He does not consider himself to be racist and this may be the first time in his life where his internal monologue about who Riley Cooper is is being questioned by the public. He found the edge of his privilege, and it is apparently at a gate outside a Kenny Chesney show.
As Roberts said, “When you use language that is freighted with social meaning, you are responsible for that meaning, even if you did not ‘intend’ it.”
Related Post: Do I have privilege? You bet.
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