Privilege isn’t what you’re fighting

Thesis: Anyone can have impostor syndrome for any number of reasons. Privilege is orthogonal to how one feels about themselves.

Thesis2: Anyone can be depressed for any number of reasons. Privilege is not a deciding factor.

Summary: The trend to bash on “privilege” is ill targeted. Bash on people’s actions. Bash on their misconceptions. Bash on their hurtful words. But their privilege? That’s just tilting at windmills. “Privilege” will never go away AND it is not the cause of the thing you are fighting. The world is a bit more complex than that, thankfully.

[EDIT added at 2013-12-20T00:38:25+00:00]: The cause of the thing you’re fighting is the environment which gives rise to that privilege. Maybe I’m splitting hairs, but:
Please don’t attack my whiteness or maleness or (very) not poorness. But the fact that those things, a priori, give me a helping hand (whether I ask for it or not, or whether I even think about it or not) is not how a just society would work. Let’s fight that.

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6 comments.

  1. The first point I’d call attention to is that I don’t see the trend happening. It doesn’t even seem like an easy thing to even do, since it would appear incredibly petty, so as to be immediately dismissed. Of course, other criticisms of privilege are generally dismissed as well, so there is that.

    Privilege is systemic. If it wasn’t, it would be easy to fix. One of the systematic ways it is defended is by those with privilege not being aware of it, and believing that their experience is the normal experience for everyone. Folks’ actions may not be connected to privilege, so directing criticism to them can be a wasted effort. No one goes out of their way to be white, or a man, or to have food security; their existence can’t be “bashed”. But drawing attention to their privilege, and how it affects those without it, is useful for changing hearts and minds.

    Also, anyone is capable of having imposter syndrome. But a women in STEM is discouraged from overcoming it. Men are encouraged to overcome it, and are giving a series of tools to deal with it as it is applied in that particular field. That is privilege interacting with a person’s feelings of self.

    People who are depressed in happier places have a higher rate of suicide. It is because people derive value from localized conditions. If you are without privilege, and you live in a bad neighborhood, and all the happy families on tv are functional and white and middle-class, and no one gives you the same breaks as those that are perceived to be normal people… none of these factors will contribute to taking the appropriate actions in diagnosing and alleviating your mental stress (which I use to include depression). Privilege doesn’t decide who is depressed, but it can decide the resources one has in dealing with it, and that can create a sprial up or down.

    Reading that, I suppose I take issue with your thesis statements. ^_^

  2. 1) This came out of a semi-private conversation with someone who thought they might be too privileged to use the term ‘impostor syndrome’. I told them they weren’t, no one is. I don’t know if its a trend, I only have one datum on that axis. But I thought it was worthwhile to make the point that they should try to address their impostor syndrome instead of just saying they can’t have it (because they’re “privileged” in some way, notably white, male, and not poor).

    2) paragraph two doesn’t affect my theses. I agree that privilege is systemic and attacking someone for being white or tall or whatever is useless (as that is the point of my post). Pointing out someone’s inability to see their privilege in a specific situation is good. But attacking the privilege (whiteness) isn’t useful.

    3) Why does the fact that women are actively pushed away from STEM mean that I can’t have legitimate depression or impostor syndrome in STEM? I’m fairly privileged (white, upper-middle-class upbringing, etc) but I have impostor syndrome all the time. Impostor syndrome is not a function only of gender/sex/wealth/whatever. It’s a function of whatever quality a person has that they are (told to be) uncomfortable with.

    4) Agreed, but just because someone has resources to deal with a condition does not mean that the condition isn’t valid (the point of my theses).

    Extended commentary: It’s good to point out privilege. Full stop. It’s not good to blame people for being privileged. Impostor syndrome is bad for anyone to experience. Full stop. It is not ok to tell someone who is rich and white that they are not worthy of having impostor syndrome. Are the outcomes of their impostor syndrome as bad as less-privileged peoples’? Of course not! That’s not the point.

    We can deal with the issues that privilege causes without demonizing privileged people.

  3. If someone said they might be too privileged to have imposter syndrome, that isn’t privilege talking, it is imposter syndrome.

    I think your reply is speaking past what I am responding to, it is really just: ‘The trend to bash on “privilege” is ill targeted. Bash on people’s actions. Bash on their misconceptions. Bash on their hurtful words. But their privilege? That’s just tilting at windmills.’

    I disagree with that, and I don’t know how you got there with the thesis statements (which is why I responded to them, but you can ignore those paragraphs). And my disagreement is: you should not be bashing on anything, and if that suggestion is in response to an observable trend, then I am either isolated from it, or it doesn’t exist, and I don’t think it is tied to imposter syndrome or depression.

    I suppose that by commenting, it appears I am defending the right to attack privilege. I am not. “The first point I’d call attention to is that I don’t see the trend happening.” I do not believe that stating those theses lead to that conclusion; they don’t appear related.

  4. Ahhhhh, my misunderstanding. Thanks maiki!

    So yeah, exactly agree with you with your first line.

    And, you’re probably right in that there isn’t a trend in bashing privilege, per se. Potentially poor choice of words on my part. But I’m not sure how else to say it right now…

    Though, actually, the more I think about it, yeah: there at least was a trend in my undergraduate anthropology department students to bash privilege it self. I may have participated even (albeit from a privileged position).

    Alright, I’m going to edit that last paragraph in this post….

  5. there at least was a trend in my undergraduate anthropology department students to bash privilege it self.

    Hahahahaha! I don’t even know if you are being ironic, but that line tickled me. ^_^

  6. not ironic :)

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