Reflections Of A Male Social Work Student On Living With Privilege

Reflections Of A Male Social Work Student On Living With Privilege

What my experience has taught me my privilege means.
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In getting my Bachelors in Social Work, we talk a lot about marginalized, or oppressed people groups. If there are marginalized and oppressed groups of people, then there are those groups who are privileged enough not to experience that oppression. Oppression means a loss of something; rights, economic opportunity, health. Then the other group(s) gain what the other group(s) lost.

Discussions of privilege often turn a lot of people off.

Some claim it doesn’t exist, others claim that if you don’t acknowledge it then you can’t talk about any of the issues we see today. Now I won’t necessarily talk about how to get past all of that, but I can talk about my own experience, how I see my privilege, and how I see it has affected my life. But it’s important to note that this isn’t a journey I find myself at the end of, really, I am at the beginning, but for those of you interested, here I am so far.

When looking at my privilege I am left seeing two categories: things I have gained because of it, and things I lack because of it. I will be looking at my experience through these two lenses. Of gaining things that many people have had taken away from them. And of what burdens I do not have to carry.

When my family came to the United States they used the Homestead Act of 1862 to claim their land.

At first, I thought this was just a fun piece of family history that tied me to the larger American story, but upon further reflection, I couldn’t see it that way anymore. The land my family took had been the land of Native Americans. The government had forced them to leave and then sold it to my family. I’ve heard that some relative of mine still owns it. This is just one example of how my family, and ultimately me, have benefitted from the oppression of another group. It’s hard to think of this as a “fun” piece of family history, although it certainly does say volumes about the history America would like to say about itself.

With that being said, what story do I tell about myself in regards to privilege? This was one of the hardest things for me to grasp, but what I have come to learn is; my privilege is obvious, not just because of thoughts I have, but because of the thoughts I don’t have to have. I have never worried that the person in the other side of the park is staring at me as I am on my run and that I should hold my keys in my hand, just in case I need to defend myself. And I have never felt the fear that I might a close relationship after I tell them my sexual orientation. I don’t walk out the door and feel eyes on me, judging me, because of the color of my skin.

In the end, what I think makes it clear that I am privileged is that for me, this is a discussion, for other people, this is life.

I have the luxury of thinking about this when I choose and learning about it when I feel like it. But if you are born into a marginalized group this isn’t a question of when and how to think about it, it’s a fact of life, something that is carried with you every day.

Cover Image Credit: Photo by Jake Ingle on Unsplash

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Minority Representation Was Never Just About Historical Accuracy

Gemma Chan's casting in "Mary Queen of Scots" has far more reach and impact beyond the issue of historical accuracy.

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The past year has been regarded as a revolutionary time for Asian representation, and it seems to begin with what came to be known as "Asian August" in 2018. The momentum from "Asian August" has carried through into 2019. A recently prominent figure in Asian representation is Gemma Chan, who starred in "Crazy Rich Asians" and "Captain Marvel." Her role as Bess of Hardwick in "Mary Queen of Scots," however, drew some criticism from viewers, who questioned the casting of an Asian woman as a white historical figure. Chan has since responded to this criticism in her Allure cover story.

Chan stated in Allure, "Why are actors of color, who have fewer opportunities anyway, only allowed to play their own race? And sometimes they're not even allowed to play their own race." To this, she added, "If John Wayne can play Genghis Khan, I can play Bess of Hardwick." She makes an important point about representation here: many roles of historical figures of color have been played by white actors. Actors of color have very few opportunities, and in many cases, are even denied roles of historical figures of their race.

It's true that a major argument for better representation has been accuracy to the source material, but the actual issue of representation is not about historical accuracy. The push for better representation is a push to see more actors of color onscreen and to open up more opportunities for actors of color, especially when white actors are placed in roles of historical figures of color. Gemma Chan brings up John Wayne, who was in yellowface for his role of Genghis Khan.

The barring of actors of color, who already have fewer opportunities, from the roles of these historical figures is the true problem, not a lack of accuracy to the source material. There is a backlash when a white actor plays the role of a person of color because actors of color already have very limited opportunities.

Gemma Chan further states that "art should reflect life now" and that "If we portray a pure white past, people start to believe that's how it was, and that's not how it was." Her role in "Mary Queen of Scots" aids in fighting the whitewashing of history and of film and television as a whole. She also comments on her compound racial identity, stating that she feels both Asian and British. This is especially important to members of the Asian diaspora who are stereotyped as "perpetual foreigners."

Gemma Chan's role in a period film solidifies her British identity, helping to break down the "perpetual foreigner" stereotype and assert that her being Asian does not take away from her being British. For members of the Asian diaspora, it is important to see an Asian actress in a role where she can embrace the duality of her identity rather than having to be exclusively Chinese or British. Gemma Chan's casting in "Mary Queen of Scots" has far more reach and impact beyond the issue of historical accuracy. Seeing an Asian actor in a European or American period film is very rare, and Chan's role should be celebrated for its importance to Asian representation rather than criticized for not being historically accurate.

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Dear White Boy From Expos, Do Me A Favor And Check Your Privilege

Not being accused of coming to this country to steal jobs is a privilege. Being automatically recognized as American is not a problem, it's a privilege.

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Last semester in my expos class while talking about the issue of race, a white boy in my class raised his hand and asked the professor if he would've to guess that he had (very distant) ethnic ties to other countries. He then proceeded to complain about how people automatically assume that he is merely just American rather than think he had some roots in different countries.

Well, white boy in expos, do I have some things to say to you, my friend.

Being able to walk into a restaurant in places like Utah and not being stared at as if you're a specimen that they have never seen before is a privilege. Not being asked where you're actually from is a privilege. Not being told to go back to "your country" is a privilege. Not being accused of coming to this country to steal jobs is a privilege.

Being automatically recognized as American is not a problem, it's a privilege.

I have seen many people of color put in their fullest efforts to become more "American." I've seen people change, their names to something more western to fit in. I've seen people reject their culture to fit the part of an "American." I have seen people who are embarrassed by their immigrant parents who struggle to speak English in fear that they seem less "American." I have seen people try to change the way they look to more "American."

These are struggles that as a white boy in America you will never face.

As a first generation American I can say that I have witnessed the consequences that others have faced from trying to distance themselves from their cultures. Their attempt to validate their "Americanness" has caused an irreparable amount of distance from their parents. As a child of immigrants, I have seen how important culture is for my parents. If I were to reject their culture, I would have ideally been rejecting them. The amount of pain that I would have caused my parents hurts even to imagine, but these are the great lengths that my colored skinned brothers and sisters are willing to go, white boy, to be recognized as "American," a title that was given to you on a silver platter.

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