On Women’s Day in the U.S., here’s what I’m thinking about regarding identity and discrimination:
I occasionally encounter the sentiment that, for example, “I am an American woman, and I’ve never felt discriminated against; therefore, I don’t believe women in America are discriminated against.”
Fair enough. I’m a white, heterosexual, cisgender male, and I’ve never felt like I’ve explicitly or specifically benefited from that in terms of merit-based achievement.
But there’s a problem with extrapolating my personal and anecdotal experience to an entire culture and society; namely, I am not every American man. Not to mention, whether I have, in fact, benefited from my gender, race, or sexual orientation isn’t wholly relevant to what’s commonly referred to as “privilege.”
I’m willing to admit my shortcomings, especially on this topic. But the idea of privilege in this context is when one person thinks something is not a problem because it is not a problem for that person.
Privilege doesn’t know explicit boundaries of gender, race, or creed. Just as there are women who don’t feel discriminated against and, therefore, believe gender discrimination is not a problem in 2017 America, I have no doubt there are African Americans who have never felt discriminated against and, therefore, believe racism is not a problem in 2017 America. Those people are not traitors to their gender or race. They are privileged by their environment and experiences.
The very statement that “I have never experienced discrimination, so discrimination must not exist” is the expression of that privilege.
The American ideal is that such people can live in such a great country and feel secure in their equality. Those people should not be vilified, condemned, or scoffed at. They shouldn’t be judged.
By the same token, though, I hope such people would also reserve judgement. I hope they would be willing to expand their understanding of the world beyond their own experiences and consider that, to not feel discriminated against or oppressed, is the privilege that defines living in America, one that our founding fathers envisioned for us all, and that there are many people, either just like you or wholly different but still very much American, who don’t experience that privilege you just might take for granted.
All of that is to say, women, I have no idea what your world is like, but I want you to experience the equality America promises you, because I am an American, and to seek the American dream is to wish that dream for everyone.
I don’t know when we’ll reach that future or what it will look like, but until then, I’m in your corner, because I know you’re in mine, too.