Dear marginalized communities,
First of all, I love you and am with you and I know I'm not perfect, but I want to constantly learn how to better fight for my own communities as well as be a strong ally for others. With that being said, today I want to talk about something a little different: where privilege and oppression intersect. This topic never comes at a good time and is never easy. As a society, we need to be celebrating and supporting the journeys and successes of people in marginalized groups. For instance, Barack Obama becoming the first black US president deserved every ounce of celebration. Just because he was also a straight man doesn't take away from how incredible that feat was and what a huge step forward that was for America. On top of this, the responsibility still weighs far heavier on those that, for instance, fall into the "straight white male" trifecta. They are the ones reaping the greatest benefits.
The fact that someone fits into some privileged groups does not minimize or delegitimize any oppression, racism, sexism, homophobia, violence, unequal treatment, etc. that that person has faced. Privilege and marginalization do not invalidate the other. The thing that I want to shine a light on today is that this goes both ways. Being in one marginalized group does not stop you from receiving privilege from the other groups you fall into. Will it be the same amount of privilege as the straight white guy next to you? Maybe not, but it exists nevertheless.
And also a quick note for anyone who maybe isn't familiar with the term privilege! Someone inferring you have privilege doesn't mean your life was easy, and it doesn't mean you didn't work hard or face hardships. For instance, if you're white but from a lower income household and you know someone who is black and had CEO handed down to him from his father, YOU STILL HAVE PRIVILEGE. Privilege just means that in one or more areas of your life, your sexuality/race/gender/etc. did not directly contribute to your hardships. In this example, your hardships were not because you were white. Many of his hardships, while not in the financial department, will definitely have stemmed from the color of his skin.
Okay now that that's out of the way, I'll start with myself.
I'm a woman who has learned a lot about sexism and inequality in life so far, and I'm only 20 years old. I am passed up over my male associates, even when I am clearly more qualified. I have to fight harder than men for almost everything, not even to be treated equally, but just to not be ignored. If I do not assert myself, I am perceived as weak and when I do, I'm bitchy. I'm trained to be scared of being alone or out while it's dark. I've learned signs of human trafficking, taken self-defense classes, and know that a ponytail and headphones make me an easy target. I've learned to minimize situations where creepy men make comments about my appearance, even if that's the last thing I want to do. I've learned to question good deeds, in search of ulterior motives. I've learned not to leave my drink unattended and that statistically speaking, there's a good chance I will be sexually assaulted, or worse, raped, in my lifetime. On top of that, I've learned that if that happens, there's a high likelihood that it will never be taken seriously. Sadly, I've learned that this country does not care about protecting women or about fixing the systemic sexism that is written into our Constitution, our laws, and our history.
I am also a person of color. Half Chinese to be exact. I grew up with friends and strangers alike mocking my appearance, my diet, and my mother. I am told my chances of getting a job are higher if I can do an over the phone interview so that they cannot see my face. Being in theatre, I know that I have to be 10x better than my white female counterparts in order to get seriously considered for the same role. Not because the role was supposed to be white, but because historically, the US has a racist past of only casting white people. Now, directors and casting agents have subconscious biases towards the "traditional" look of the character. Unfortunately, we aren't addressing that "traditional" usually comes from racist foundations. Asians are also the least cast minority in theatre and film. Many theorize that this is because Asians are the minority group least likely to be considered American. I was born and raised in America yet some people still act like I'm a foreigner. I face Asian stereotyping and see cases of yellowface often, but people are usually quiet about it. Racism against Asians is often ignored. History books never taught me the truth about our war in Vietnam or that I would also have been drinking at the water fountain for the "colored" if I were born then. And it goes without saying, but I, of course, will never be seen as equal to a white woman. Most white women do not realize this.
Both of these are valid and hold real weight, and this next part does not take away from any of these issues. It is only another layer. However, it's an important layer. Because although I'm a woman and a person of color, I am also a well off, able bodied, light skinned, cisgendered, straight person.
From a socioeconomic standpoint, my mother and I were able to figure out a way for me to attend USC, one of the best colleges in the country. I did not have to help support my mom in high school. I could put my full attention on my schoolwork and theatre. We could afford to live in a good area, and I did not feel unsafe at night. Because I lived in a good area, my school got enough money from taxes to provide their students with a good education. On a broader level, I grew up in America. I grew up in one of the most privileged countries in the world. I was not told I would have to stop going to school once my period came because the men in my country thought it was a disease. I got to learn how to read and write, and I was allowed to pursue higher education, unlike many other women. On top of that, my opportunities are not limited by any kind of disability. While this kind of privilege is not talked about a lot, it NEEDS to be, especially considering the staggeringly high statistics for things like unemployment and abuse for those who have some kind of disability.
Of course, I do not have white privilege. However, I have to recognize that because I have light skin, I receive some elements of white privilege in comparison to those of darker skin. People do not wonder if I'm a thief when I walk into a store. I can never fully understand the fear of being pulled over by the police. The Constitution never deemed me three-fifths of a person. Some of my ancestors helped with the Underground Railroad, but they never were the ones escaping. And within the Asian community, being half Asian also makes me a more acceptable version of an Asian person. I'm still not white, but I'm more familiar than those in my community who are darker than I am.
I'm also cis and straight. When I use the bathroom, I have never felt afraid. I will never truly feel what it feels like to be misgendered or have my identity invalidated. I don't have to walk around fearing that if someone notices or finds out, I will be in danger. When I kiss my boyfriend in public, no one bats an eye (well except for people who still think mixed race relationships should be illegal, but you know what I mean). No one calls my sexuality a sin or a phase. I will never have to experience coming out, inhumane conversion therapy, or fighting for the right to marry and adopt.
I'm sure I missed many things, and I have a lot to learn. But, those are my two sides. The privileged and the marginalized. I encourage you to be aware of both of your sides as well. And also think about how we need to recognize these in other people. For instance, a gay president would be monumental, no matter what. However, it seems like people are forgetting that Pete Buttigieg is also a cis, white, man who is well off. While it is incredible that a gay candidate is gearing up for election season and we shouldn't downplay what he faces for being in the LGBT community, we have to be aware that he is also benefiting from every single other element of privilege. And he's been benefiting his entire life. Of course, I'm just using him as an example, because I saw his name before I began writing this article. I'm not trying to single him out. You can say the same about a straight, cis white woman. She is also benefiting from almost every element of privilege. That does not take away from how awful sexism is, but it does give her the responsibility to recognize that and fight for women of color, along with other less privileged groups.
We must hold people and ourselves accountable for recognizing privilege and look at things through an intersectional lens. We must be allies and advocate for those who do not fall into the same privileges as we do, just as they should do the same for us. We must also make sure we are validating people's experiences of being marginalized, despite them having other elements of privilege. We have to do all of it, not just one or the other.
That's my two cents on the matter. On the note of being an ally, happy pride to both those who can openly celebrate and to those who aren't ready/aren't safe to just yet. I pray for the day that everyone can be safely, openly, and authentically themselves. I'm lifting all of you up this month and every month. Oh, and straight pride is the stupidest thing I've ever heard of.