Check Your Privilege

Check Your Privilege

If you haven't already

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Privilege: A word that's being thrown around a lot these days, especially when it comes to the audacity some people have to complain about things they "do or do not have". I am not talking about POC's, those who fall in the LQBTQIA+ community, or anyone part of an oppressed group, I am talking about cis white folk.

The people who have colonized, taken over and abused power and continue to control the system. Now don't get me wrong, a lot of white cis folk aren't "bad" people, just the same with any group of individuals; there are just simply some bad people wherever you go (sad). Bringing it back, I am talking about the undermining effect of unrealized or unnoticed privilege. I will begin to explain a perfect example of privilege, based on an assignment I had to provide for my English class, with a course based around gender, sexuality, and race.

Something that's stood out to me, was a story about The Erotic written by Audre Lorde. Lorde mentions the impact that our own personal erotic can have on our day to day, and view of life. Lorde mentions a story of someone's hands being their erotic; a centered place of pleasure and power. Not that hands can be used for power necessarily, but it is an outlet of power, for good…and also sexuality, emotion, and expression. Think about it, as cis (straight) people, our hands are not our only outlet for "pleasure".

The story then goes onto to talk about an instance of a lesbian couple, who were set out for a manicure one day. Only one of the partners got their nails done, and their partner watched. Let's call the person getting their nails done REESE and their partner RILEY.

Reese was getting her nails done, and Riley was observing, now Riley was the one in the story, who described their hands as their erotic. Riley was watching Reese get their nails done, and couldn't help but get extremely uncomfortable; as Riley saw hands as her erotic, and a place of sanctuary within the bedroom, and mode for emotional and sexual expression, it made Riley uncomfortable at the way Reese's hands were being touched. How the hands were caressed like they meant nothing to the manicurist, and they were just "skin and bones".

Riley thought about the level of uncomfort, and how she, was the only one in the room thinking that. Long story short, cis people do not need to think about a manicure, in which ways some people might if they deem their hands to be a sexual mode of expression, emotion, and love like previously stated. Now, I'm not saying bless the holy ground that your hands behold, but I just used this instance as an example of a privilege some communities do not need to think about, it's just in cis folk nature to not concern themselves with that.

Check your privilege at your favorite restaurant, with your best friends, in class, the grocery store and when you're meeting a new group of people for the first time. Treat everyone with kindness, and remember where you came from. Look in the mirror for god sake if you really need a reminder that your exterior is giving you power and privilege that some fight for, and may never have; by means in which the way the world and our country especially, works right now.

Count the number of times you have to think about the way you are touched, think about how you touch others. Remember that no one can always speak up for themselves, remember that sometimes doing the right thing should be subconscious; but if it not for you yet, take a second to think about your actions.

Be smart, be kind and be honest.

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No, Being Transgender and "Transracial" Are Not Equivalent

One is real. One isn't. Here's why.
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Rachel Dolezal. Ja Du. These are a couple of the names that have surfaced in the news here and there during the last couple of years, belonging to people claiming to be “transracial:” born white, but identifying as a person of color (black and Filipino, respectively). The general reaction to these supposedly transracial people has been an angry one, especially from people of color, who are rightfully concerned about the insensitive appropriation of their identities and experiences.

The spread of these stories, which tend to erupt into social media dumpster fires, has resulted in floods of delighted anti-trans conservatives, who are eager to emphasize what they see as liberal hypocrisy. “So people can choose their gender, but not their race?” is a common phrase scattered across platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit, declared with such a sense of triumph that it’s clearly thought to work as some sort of checkmate.

This perceived double standard, however, doesn’t hold up at all. It’s true: transgender people exist. Transracial people don’t. Why? Because gender and race, of course, are two completely different components of identity.

Both of these are social constructs: there is no biological evidence behind the existence of either gender or race. Just because something is a construct, however, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have an influence on reality. And it’s indeed pretty much impossible to deny that both gender and race have heavy impacts on our daily lives, whether or not we are aware of it.

So why does gender possess a fluidity that race does not? Simply put, because it’s less complex--but that isn’t an answer that most will find satisfactory, so let’s go in a little deeper.

Gender divisions are, in large part, built on stereotypes and social roles, all of which vary massively between cultures and across history. Womanhood in regions of pre-colonial Africa may be vastly different from womanhood in medieval Europe. There is no right way to be a woman, and there is ultimately no collective experience of womanhood. Gender is performative: it is far less about how we perceive the world, and far more about how the world perceives us. To identify as a gender is to identify with a subjective component of society, the one which allows for the most genuine and accurate expression of one’s identity. Gender can form an important community, but it is one that we discover for ourselves, not one into which we are born.

Race is less easy to define. To some extent, there’s a physical component (though, as mentioned above, there is no biological evidence whatsoever of racial divisions actually existing). But it also has to do with nationality, ethnicity, and heritage. Race is something that people are born into--truly born into, not coercively assigned by a doctor based on external body parts. It will play a role, however big or small, in one’s upbringing, experiences, and perception of the world. In my experience as a white person, these experiences have all been flavored with privilege--privilege which, for many years of my life, I never noticed. For me, white privilege seemed invisible, because it was simply the way the world worked.

I am not able to begin identifying as a black person, as Rachel Dolezal attempted, because I did not grow up through experiences of blackness. I can and should appreciate and admire other cultures, and to some extent, I can participate in them, as well. But that does not make me black.

Of course, formative experiences can have an impact on the development of gender, as well. But there is a key difference: gender is learned. Race is inherited. This isn’t a biological argument, but rather a cultural truth. Customs, traditions, food, dress, religion, and speech patterns are all elements of lifestyle that can be tied to race. That isn’t, of course, to say that people of the same race will have any or all of these things in common, but there is always an impact.

Gender, again, is performative. It is not our way of existing, consuming, and producing, but instead our way of interacting with society. It is how we function in the world, not how we behave in the privacy of our homes. And because of this, it is a much more accessible and therefore fluid form of identity.

I know that I am transgender because I am uncomfortable being called a woman, I have an intimate uneasiness with my own body, and I feel a profound disconnect whenever I am designated female. But I’m still the same person that I was before puberty, when I identified as a girl: I can still wear makeup and engage in other typically “feminine” activities. That’s because none of these things have inherent connections to gender: we’re just taught that they fall on the “woman” side of the imaginary binary. There was nothing about my being raised as a girl that would have been inaccessible to children of any other gender.

People of color, however, would not have been able to live the same life as me. I existed--and still do exist--in a place of privilege that is utterly unattainable to someone who isn’t white. People of color cannot “transracially” identify as white people; therefore, we can not “transracially” identify as people of color. A black person would not be able to escape racial profiling due to their “identifying” as white, and a white person would not be pulled over by a cop because they “identified” as black. Trans women, on the other hand, are targeted even more than cis women, and though many trans men experience male privilege, we are often the victims of harassment, violence, and even misdirected misogyny.

The attempt to equate race and gender is, at its heart, childish. Anyone could point out the obvious differences between the two--but, as with all aspects of politics and culture, the significance runs even deeper than the surface suggests. The moral of the story: transgender people exist. Transracial people do not. Don’t get it twisted.

Cover Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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A Feminist Critique Of The #MeToo Movement's Blindspot

I'm a feminist, but here is my problem with #MeToo.

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The recent discussion of sexual violence in American society has sparked a fiery debate over how to create change for women everywhere. A topic which was once a whisper in the back of the room has become a national discussion of women's rights. But what about the rampant sexual violence towards Native American women? There is no #MeToo conversation inclusive of the atrocities which Native American women are facing.

Society has been so focused on a relatable narrative when creating #MeToo, that America has completely sidelined and consequently exacerbated the issues of the Native American community. Just because the poverty which Natives face is not relatable in the way the middle and upper-middle class stories of #MeToo are, does not mean that the stories of the more powerful are the only ones worth listening to.

According to Amnesty International, Native American women are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual violence, yet there seems to be no hashtag or mass movement inclusive of them. These high rates of sexual violence, mixed with low rates of prosecution, have created a vicious and shocking cycle of violence on reservations. The severe sexual violence being experienced by Native American women is a widespread and pressing issue that is lacking proper attention and legislative action and it's truly appalling.

In a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, 94% of the nearly 300 Native American women surveyed reported being raped in their lives. This figure is absolutely terrifying. To put this into a more local context, the Navajo Nation reservation in Arizona has had "more rapes [between 2008-2014] reported than in San Diego, Detroit or Denver," according to FBI's reports. This issue has plagued Natives for generations but remains overlooked and undiscussed by the majority of Americans. The #MeToo discussion revolves the idea of a relatable platform, but just because poverty isn't relatable does not entail that those in poverty should not receive justice. It's baffling how an issue can be this salient to one group of people yet go completely unnoticed by another.

To break the issue down, tribal courts have several large obstacles preventing them from acting as an effective means of justice. The main difficulty is the inability to prosecute non-Natives. Even though in "86% of the reported cases of rape against American Indian women, survivors report non-Native perpetrators,” justice cannot be served because tribes don't have the jurisdiction to prosecute. One can only imagine the frustration of a minority group which cannot receive justice in the face of a more socioeconomically powerful perpetrator.

Most recently, the Violence Against Women's Act of 1994 created an amendment in 2013 to give tribal courts the right to prosecute non-Natives who committ domestic and dating violence. This amendment fails to take into consideration however, that most rape cases against Native women are not domestic or dating violence. It seems inconceivable how such injustice is occurring but the media and movements like #MeToo simply aren't aware of it. In order to affect change for women everywhere, everyone's issues must be accounted for, even if issue of those in poverty aren't "relatable."

In the search for justice, tribes often send cases they do have jurisdiction over to U.S. Justice Department. In his New York Times Article, Timothy Williams cites that the Justice Department however did not pursue 65% of rape charges on reservations and 61% of cases involving the sexual abuse of Native children in 2012. So, while Native American women are two and a half times more likely to be raped, only one-third of them have a chance at receiving the justice they deserve. It almost feels as though it comes from a place of elitism that there are very few cases in which Natives can receive justice because they don't have jurisdiction over a seemingly untouchable group of richer people.

Sexual violence and the lack of prosecution to address it in the Native American community is a crisis which will never improve if continued to be left alone. Nothing will change until tribal courts have the power to fully enact law and order in their communities. It's been shown that the U.S. Justice Department ignores the issue and the U.S. public is unaware that this is even happening. With the current efforts which are being made to empower and protect women, American society has gotten lost in framing the issue to be relatable to the point where they have forgotten an entire group of people.

Until the public has been made aware of the severity of this issue, no legislation will be passed to help these women and the elitist injustice will continue. #MeToo is meant to give a voice to victims of sexual violence, but this mission will never be successful until the plight of Native American women has been heard.

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