Recently I’ve been thinking about privilege quite a bit. As a white and cis-gendered I have a fair amount of it. Being queer and woman undermines this a bit, but not enough for me to say I’m underprivileged. I’ll be framing this bit in terms of my experience and my privileges for easy examples, but this isn’t just about my privilege. Its about the privilege of protesting and how those who most need to protest often aren’t able to.
First of all, just the logistics of protesting rely quite a bit on privilege. It takes time out of a work day. Yes, some protests take place on weekends (the Women’s March), but many underserved people are forced to work jobs that don’t conform to the traditional work week. The missed wages and potential consequences of taking day off are often too much. The second logistical issue is that of transportation. People in rural areas simply can’t make it to protests. Using Alaska and the Women’s March as an example again, it isn’t realistic to expect women who live in the bush to fly to Anchorage just for a few hours of activism. Even in cities, it can be hard. Public transit is a nightmare, ride sharing is expensive and walking can be unsafe or unrealistic. Finding childcare can be a logistical challenge as well. It’s expensive and often requires transportation, which as outlined above, is a barrier for many. The short term cost of protest creates an insurmountable barrier for those who do not have the privilege of free time, ease of travel, and familial support structures.
Education is yet another barrier. This is arguably the fault of the left. The language of social justice is becoming increasingly academic. As it can be more efficient that way, it also becomes elitist. This manifests at a number of levels. The most obvious one is the number of student protests at private universities versus state. Most of the ones that we hear about are at public universities. This change in rhetoric that can be seen is super problematic. Just because someone does’t have as advanced of a vocabulary doesn’t mean they don’t understand the concept. It creates another barrier of oppression. Its something I am often guilty of in these posts, and I am making an active effort to be accessible in my language. After all, change should be conceptual, not semantic.
Fear. Probably the number one thing that prevents people from protesting. For some, fear is from authority or the police. This TED talk talks about the fear of police that kept many people of color from protesting in Ferguson and the privilege of those that did not have the same fear of the police. Protesting has the potential to threaten future opportunities. Look at the fear surrounding anti-gun protests and getting in to college. Fear is used a tool to keep people submissive. Those who are able to avoid those fears have the privilege to protest freely.
Even the stigma around protesting is privileged. Stereotypes of people of color and women who are vocal are negative as a suppressive tactic. I talked about it a bit in an earlier post , but behavior often holds a double standard. The angry black woman is a brave white woman. The bossy woman is a confident man. This piece on civility does a wonderful job of outlining the ways in which behavioral expectations surrounding activism create privilege and suppress underprivileged voices.
As with almost all things, the privilege inherent in protesting favors white, cis, straight people, leading for protest which is not intersectional! To make more inclusive protests, privilege needs to be exploited. It is our job as people who have that privilege to ensure that intersectional issues are being addressed, our protests are accessible, and as many as our underprivileged friends as possible can make it.
Stay educated and aware my loves.
Every good wish,