Real world Privilege in Action

Usually I stick to online examples of Privilege in Action because I can link and quote and let the people who read it see the full context firsthand. But today I’d like to make a short PiA post that is from my very own life. You see, for the past year I’ve been attending a language school in Japan and working my butt off to learn Japanese (not there yet, but getting better). For a non-safe space I would say that my school is pretty good — the teachers are what I’d consider liberal and, perhaps partly due to the diverse student body, are pretty cool about things.

But over the terms at least once, usually more, I see practice sentences that make me upset. Everything from questions like, “What would you do if you found out your girlfriend was really a man?” to an example conversation where one of the male students in our class was propositioned by a bartender in a gay bar, and, most recently, an example conversation in which a boyfriend commanding his girlfriend to become thinner was supposed to be explained away in a positive way using the grammar we just learned.

I like my teachers, and I have to say that I probably know more than half of them in my program and have been taught by at least one third of them. As with all the others who get highlighted in these posts, I think that they are not trying to be bigoted and, indeed, when these matters are pointed out to them they are overall apologetic. But, even if they apologize for a particular example, it happens again with another non-privileged group of which they typically aren’t a part of. Or another teacher does the same thing and the cycle starts over.

Privilege is not needing to consider how non-privileged groups feel about the way you paint them.

My teachers don’t create these hurtful things because they want to keep non-privileged groups down. They don’t create them with any intent to do harm or to upset the students. They create them because they assume that everyone else is like them and thinks like them and because their group has created the dominant (and therefore default) discourse which says that it’s perfectly okay and normal to say those kinds of things.

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5 Responses to Real world Privilege in Action

  1. Kristy says:

    very well said!

  2. Elayne Riggs says:

    Oh, applause, Andrea! I think “Privilege is not needing to consider how non-privileged groups feel about the way you paint them” absolutely sums up the whole Clinton blogger luncheon and blackface kerfuffles of 2006 extremely well!

  3. Godless Heathen says:

    Really great example to use, though I’m sorry you have to put up with that kind of thing in class. When I studied Spanish (oh so many years ago) we would occasionally have example sentences and conversations about girls getting thinner for their boyfriends. At the time I wasn’t nearly as enlightened as I am now, and my fat butt was made the topic of conversation more often than not. In college we read Spanish novels packed full of racism and homophobia which the professors rarely addressed in class. It’s extremely hard to speak out in a class where your grasp of anti-oppression practice has to clash with your mastery of a language you aren’t fluent with, then defend your position against all the privilleged folks who take it upon themselves to bicker with you.

  4. tekanji says:

    Kristy: Thanks! That one’s been brewing for… oh… a year now. I’m really glad I could take it and do something positive with it, though. Otherwise it would have just been, “@#%&OMGWTFBBQ#$%!!111″

    Elayne said:

    I think “Privilege is not needing to consider how non-privileged groups feel about the way you paint them” absolutely sums up the whole… blackface kerfuffles of 2006 extremely well!

    That one kind of literally, huh? ;)

    Godless Heathen:

    At the time I wasn’t nearly as enlightened as I am now, and my fat butt was made the topic of conversation more often than not.

    That’s awful!

    I also heard that a similar thing happened to one woman at our school. She was the only heavy woman in the class and apparently because of that the teachers made her the subject of all the dieting and fat-related example sentences. When one student pointed it out, the teacher was like, “Oh, you’re right! Maybe I shouldn’t do that.” The next day? There was another example sentence about fatness and she was still the subject.

    In college we read Spanish novels packed full of racism and homophobia which the professors rarely addressed in class. It’s extremely hard to speak out in a class where your grasp of anti-oppression practice has to clash with your mastery of a language you aren’t fluent with, then defend your position against all the privilleged folks who take it upon themselves to bicker with you.

    Yeah, I hear you on that. I think a significant portion of my Japanese practice comes from teaching myself how to argue with my teachers. With Japanese it’s even more strange because of all the politeness. Usually I’ll speak in the polite form, throwing in some super-polite phrases. But sometimes when they’ve angered me I’ll just (still in polite form, but not using the phrase softeners) go straight for the punch. Even though they deal with students who do this a lot, I think it still shocks them. Especially when it comes from someone who doesn’t usually speak that way.

    I do wish I had the language to better combat these things, though. I haven’t even been able to memorize “discrimination” and so I have to constantly look it up… But I do try to engage in easy to understand concepts. For instance, in the example I used in my post about the excusing “Lose some weight!” as a good thing, I turned it into a discussion on eating disorders. It probably won’t make the teacher stop making those sentences, but maybe it will help the class to understand why weight remarks are harmful, not helpful.

  5. Pingback: Official Shrub.com Blog » Blog Archive » More real world Privilege in Action: Casual heterosexism

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