The Question of Privilege

This weekend I was at 4th Street, which was an amazing and wonderful time and I can’t wait to go back next year, and one of the discussions I ended up having was about why it’s so hard for some people to acknowledge that their privilege even exists and it stuck with me so I decided to write a post about it and then today #AskELJames happened providing me with a serendipitous concrete example outside my personal anecdote.

But first, privilege. In the conversation I decided that privilege to me was never being asked “why are you here?” because your right to be there is a given. (Alternatively, I also like privilege as never having to ask yourself “where am I?” when looking around or reading or watching because you are already represented.)

An easy example being in cinema white is the default. If a character is something other than white there must be a narrative reason for it otherwise of course they’d be white. The idea that a character can be black just because there’s no reason they HAVE to be white is shocking to some people.

And it’s a question that makes people uncomfortable when they’ve never been confronted with it before.

Most of the people you see balking at the idea of privilege are straight white men because they’ve never had to question where they are and rarely do people question the validity of their presence. It’s assumed that they have the right to be in any conversation and that those conversations should include them. So when “all of a sudden” people turn and go, wait, why are you here, there’s a how dare you question me response. So instead of stepping back for a second and thinking “ok why am I here, what am I contributing, am I helping this conversation?” they lash out.

And I get it, I do. There’s this need to jump into a conversation and say your piece without thinking about how it’s going to come off or if this is your conversation. I never ever ever jump into conversations online about student loan debt even though there are times when I am sitting on my hands to stop from writing some comment that would probably come off as tone deaf and arrogant because I don’t have any student loans and never have and people with them will look at me and go ok, so why do you feel the need to be here?

Today EL James or her publishers decided it would be a brilliant idea to have an open Q&A session with the author through #AskELJames and when it became the predictable hilarious mess it made people who aren’t familiar with her particular brand of hate uncomfortable. From an outside perspective it looks like a bunch of people started shaming and belittling the author because they couldn’t separate their feelings about her books from her. Chuck Wendig wrote a piece on this and the backstory of how EL James is quite abusive to people who dare to question her books was explained to him.

The piece he wrote about how Online is IRL is actually quite great in terms of online culture in general but when applied specifically to #AskELJames it breaks down because he has never been a target of hers and doesn’t know that people who HAVE tried to have reasonable discussions about the issues in her books with her have been shutdown over and over and over again. The hilarity of #AskELJames is that she doesn’t WANT the questions her books generate and will not answer them which is why it turned into the ridiculousness that it did.

I think Chuck is being a little harsh on himself in his apology and acknowledgement of his privilege but I seriously appreciate the post because it demonstrates so clearly how when you’ve never had your presence questioned you don’t even stop to think about whether you should be saying these words or about how they’re coming off to people inside the community. I’d say it’s not about no one outside the community should talk about it but more about recognizing that you don’t have all the facts because just that acknowledgement causes you to slow down your thinking a little and navigate the field without trampling the children.

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