Using Privilege to Make the Oppressed Look Like the Oppressors

And here I am talking about race… again. I have all these beautiful posts on gaming started, but then I see things like nubian’s interview over at feministing and I feel like I have to say something. Whenever posts from feminists of colour talking about their experiences as feminists of colour get linked, invariably at least one person (sometimes another feminist, sometimes not) turns it into how the feminist of colour is mean, bad, racist, whatever.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but it still surprises me how easily the tables get turned on the feminist of colour. How easy their righteous rage, their justified anger, is presented — and accepted! — as them unfairly attacking white feminists/women/men. I just see the smooth 180 and it boggles my mind. Does no one besides the women being attacked see the ridiculousness of privileged people crying, “help, help, I’m being oppressed!’? Does no one see how it’s used to derail the thread from productive conversations?

In the interest of time (and my sanity) I’m just going to examine two of the many ways this happens, using the feministing thread as a case study. But don’t be fooled — nubian may be the most recent victim of this phenomenon, but she is far from the only one.

I. Rage Versus Oppression

I’m sorry Nubian, I have just one word for you:


[From Nubian: Blogging While Black, comment by MsJane]

MsJane calls nubian a hypocrite for expressing anger towards white feminists — anger that we don’t get the same hatred heaped on us and anger at the way we often ignore the very real, and very important, experiences of people of colour. In the course of the comment, MsJane uses the same harsh language that she faults nubian for, using words like “pompous,” “nasty,” and very condescendingly saying that she’s “sad” that nubian ‘chooses’ to “create divisions and make mocking statements.” Not to mention using the passive agressive method of saying that some people (ie. nubian) have to grow up. Come on, now.

I will be the first to admit that the balance between anger and viciousness is a hard one to find. We’ve all stepped over the line at some point, but I honestly believe that this case is different. What nubian, and every other feminist blogger of colour I’ve read, are being lambasted for in these instances is really that they call us out on our privilege and we don’t like that.

These days, it seems like whenever nubian’s name comes up, someone has to step up to the plate and start whining about how nubian said something mean. It turns nubian into the bad person. I’ve seen it happen with other bloggers of colour, like the time Jenn was practically called a race traitor because she dared to speak about sexism in the Asian American community.

I don’t see this being any different than when I rant about the “boy’s club” of video games, or comics, or whatever. I get men who want to do anything except for question their privilege coming over and calling me names, calling me a hypocrite, doing anything they can to discourage me from posting more on the issue.

Suddenly, I’ve become the bad one and they are the wronged party. Wait… what? I’m the one who has to see her gender objectified, who has to put up with being sexy first and a geek second, who has to deal with a hostile environment trying to keep me away from doing something I love. All they have to put up with is a woman huritng their feelings by being angry at her lot, which is only a momentary annoyance before they go back to the culture that caters to them.

But, I’ll admit that it’s a great method for derailing the thread — instead of talking about the subject, the thread is inundated with people defending or supporting what amounts to ad hominem attacks.

II. When A Compliment Isn’t Really A Compliment

I’m tired of people writing, “I’m a White feminist and I’m learning so much from you.” And I want to write back and be like, “I’m not here to teach you!”

[From Nubian: Blogging While Black, quote from nubian]

MsJane, who I referenced in the previous section, also takes issue with this. She brings out the “we are all teachers” argument, which is all fine and dandy if you don’t mind having privileged people come up to you and say, “Show me the oppression!” Even times and places where I’ve chosen that role I get tired by the assumption that I’m somehow responsible for thinking for them. Being a good ally involves not trying to foist responsibility onto the oppressed group with weasely phrases like, “we’re all teachers,” when it’s clear that the onus is disproportionately on the individual and/or group you’re talking to.

Furthermore, given her tone, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the impression I got from what she said was that she was more affronted that nubian dared to slap white feminists’ wrists for trying to say something nice. And, hey, the first moment that I read what nubian wrote I was like, “Why’s she complaining about taking a compliment?!”

But I took the time to read it again, read it in context, to think about what I know about nubian and her blog. And I realized that getting angry that she’s tired of being patted on the head by white feminists for being a good little token is just as condescending, if not moreso, than when guys force their chivalry on me (without my wanting it) and then expect me to be thankful. Fuck that shit.

Instead of getting angry at nubian for calling us out, we need to be truthful with ourselves: if we’re turning bloggers of colour into The Teacher on racial issues, we’re doing something wrong. If we tell her that we’ve “learned so much” from her and then expect her not to be angry, then maybe we haven’t actually learned that much at all.

III. Conclusion

True equality requires giving something up: our privilege. Until we’re ready to do that, forget equal wages or any other equality.

[From Nubian: Blogging While Black, comment by luci33]

There is a fundamental difference between a person speaking as a minority, on a minority issue, and being angry about it and a person speaking as a privileged person, from a position of privilege, being angry about a minority issue.


Privileged people have it and we use it, mercilessly, in order to prevent any conversations that may lead to us losing it. We use it to take a critique and turn it on the head; after all, it’s much easier for us to rally people against that oh-so-mean minority who isn’t being the proper token than it is for us to turn the harsh critique into something we can use to fight against a privilege-based culture.

I fully believe that we, as feminists, have a responsibility to see “oppressed as oppressor” line of thinking for what it is and not engage in it ourselves.

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This entry was posted in Feminism, Multiculturalism, Privilege, Racism. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Using Privilege to Make the Oppressed Look Like the Oppressors

  1. Pingback: Alas, a blog » Blog Archive » Using Privilege to Make the Oppressed Look Like the Oppressors

  2. Brava! Well said. THANK you.

  3. Jenn says:

    What an excellent post — sometimes I wonder if people have a hard time considering themselves outsid eof an “oppressed/oppressor” paradigm in which one is either one or the other. In many cases, the hardest dialogue one can have is when one is talking about privlege within an oppressed community (e.g. my being called a race traitor for considering sexism in the Asian American community). The idea seems to be for some that they can either be ONLY oppressed or oppressor, and never both.

  4. tekanji says:

    The idea seems to be for some that they can either be ONLY oppressed or oppressor, and never both.

    Yes, I’ve come across that attitude, too. In my experience, those people also are the ones who say things like, “bringing up the concept of ‘privilege’ is a surefire way to end a conversation.” Only, you know, if they were arguing from a privileged position — without actual knowledge on the way privilege works — then I’d argue that the conversation was shut down from the start.

    Personally, I think intersectionality is one of the main thing that oppression movements need to realize. There can be a lot gained from having tunnel vision and focusing on the movement’s main issue, but then you gotta ask — whose version of it are we focusing on?

    From what I know of the Asian American community (upheld in what I saw happen to your posts on the matter), it seems that the male AA experience is privileged above all. In the feminist sphere, it’s the white (and often upper to middle class) experience. I have to say that, in seeing what’s happened to nubian over these past 6 months, I have been shocked to see the amount of racism still alive and well in the feminist community. Even now, I make these posts and I think to myself, “Have you all learned nothing???”

    I don’t know. Maybe change really does have to be slow, but these problems with woc have been around in the feminist movement basically since feminism began. You would have thought we’d have made more headway with them by now…

  5. KC says:

    Great post!
    In a comment to a post by MaxJulian on this subject, Prof. Zero captured the problem with white people congratulating black bloggers for teaching us: “I think the biggest problem is expecting to be taught, and assuming the site was for this. Disagreeing, or having a question, is all right if it’s sincere. But the assumption of centrality, the idea that people should be happy to drop everything right now and teach from Point 1, is presumptuous.” MaxJulian restated this point as: “I think what you’re saying in nigga terms is: “I don’t mind teaching, just don’t sit back in your recliner eating popcorn while I do your heavy lifting for you. Fuck that! We’re all gonna have to tote that barge and lift that bale.” That’s how I feel and I can relate to any person of color fed up with doing the heavy lifting for “ungrateful, entitled” white folks who EXPECT us to pick their anti-racist cotton and sew the shit up TOO! Infuriating!!” Now I get it.

  6. Adam says:

    Jenn –

    I know this isn’t your blog, and comments should be focused on tekanji’s excellent post, but I want to just mentioned a few things about the whole controversy that occured on your blog. First, the whole race traitor thing by some people was totally uncalled for. You are obviously not a “race traitor” whatever that is, and you never will be. Second, I think most of the “people”, and I use that term loosely, that were so angered are Asian/Asian-American males. As an Asian-American transracial adoptee, I can understand their angry somewhat, but they took it too far. I believe these men felt that white culture perpetuates the stereotype of the oppressive, chauvinistic, sexist Asian man enough, that it hurt for an Asian-Canadian woman to address the topic as well. That’s where the feeling of betrayal came from, as misguided as it might be.

    Sorry for the thread hijack.

  7. Rycuda says:

    In response to point II above, is there a polite way to thank someone for writing informative material?

    I ask simply because I find myself in the position where I feel as if I have learnt a lot from reading this, and other, feminist blogs over the past few weeks. I feel grateful for having been taught and wish to express that without causing offence.

  8. Andrew says:

    If there’s anything I’ve learned in my short life as a black man, it’s that all whites, no matter how liberal or feminist or whatever, have this underlying arrogance that they’re somehow better than non whites. so all this that happened to Nuubian, while unfortunate, does not surprise me at all. That’s the reality of the world we live in.

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  11. Pingback: Voicing Silence/ Silencing Voice: On technology, racism, pornography, and good, old-fashioned feminist internecine warfare. (Urban survival narrative special.) at Southern Discomfort

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