Systems and scale
We live in societies, and societies are systems. Let’s break down privilege based on how your society/system treats you:
1. You are rewarded for doing nothing, just for being there. Sometimes EVEN if you work against the system.
2. You are rewarded for working with the system, you’re punished for working against the system.
3. You are punished EVEN IF you work with the system and do what you’re supposed to do.
Obviously, there’s intersectionality, lots of different ways you can sit on this scale, and sometimes you get to be the exception, etc.
BUT let’s compare and contrast:
Roman Polanski- convicted child rapist. Is world known movie director, has support from innumerable celebrities and movers and shakers in Hollywood. He is not merely given the option to work, he has people willing to put their reputations OUT THERE to speak up for him, even though he’s NEVER been punished for his crime.
Oscar Grant - murdered black man. Was shot in the back while unarmed, compliant, face down, handcuffed with a second police officer on his back while several police stood near by.
Roman Polanski has completely worked against the system, and while he’s not all in the clear, he’s got a LOT of people willing to ride or die for his rapist ass, and Oscar Grant was flat out murdered while doing EXACTLY what you’re “supposed” to do with the police - comply.
(See also, False Equivalences under the Kumbayah Myth)
Now, when you look at that scale, you can see the #1 people are happy with the system, even when they work against it’s rules, they still get good things from it. The system doesn’t do SHIT for people in #3 at all, except exploit them.
The fact that #1 or #3 exist as categories says everything we need to know about a lack of meritocracy. The people who are most invested in denying that this difference exists are the people who are benefiting.
And let’s think about that- the people at #3 are making survival choices - the system punishes them no matter what they do, and everything is a coping mechanism, trying to survive under the abuser and bring down the least amount of pain.
Now how does #1 and #3 interact? Easy, whenever there is a conflict of interests, the people higher up the ladder are favored OVER the people lower on it.
Roman Polanski can rape a girl because he’s a man. Because he’s rich. Because he’s white. Because he’s straight. Etc. His “need” to rape overrides all of her human rights. (Not mentioning her name b/c there’s definite issues about survivor broadcast. Obviously, you can Google.)
Oscar Grant can’t live because he’s black. He’s poor. etc. Officer Johannes Mehserles’ racism, fear of Black people, violent tendencies and male ego overrides Oscar Grant’s right to live.
George Zimmerman’s murder of Travyon Martin is a perfect example- he may be Latino, but obviously his skin privilege (and legal access through judge father!) has gotten him a very different situation than if he was a Black man shooting an unarmed half-white latino boy.
Laws, people, individuals, collectives
Now here’s the thing - it’s not clean cut categories- there’s spectrums along the way, and intersectionality of different ways we exist within the system - you are higher up towards #1 in someways, and lower down towards #3 in others, but this isn’t some zero-sum game where everyone actually equals out - some people sit at the intersections of #1 and do whatever the fuck they want and some people sit at the intersections of #3 and get fucked over every which way and no one gives a shit.
And I say “systems”, but that’s society, that’s people. That’s a community, a city, a state, a nation, who collectively either rewards someone, fucks over someone else, and most importantly, stands by while someone flaunts the rules OR stands by while someone is murdered and doesn’t give a fuck.
The change has to be BOTH the stated laws and rules AND the actual attitudes of the people involved. If you think some people aren’t people… well, why would you try to protect their human rights?
Meritocracy vs. Bullshit
And it says everything to me when people spend all their energy and time focused on the people at the bottom of these hierarchies- black, brown, LGBT, poor, disabled - as the people to rail on instead of the people at the top - because when you do that, you’re participating in that punishment process, you’re making sure they stay at the bottom and “know their place”.
If you think the system is injust:
1. You need to attack the actions of the people in #1 who often make the rules and benefit from them
2. You need to stop punishing the people in #3 who sit below you in privilege
Anything else is collaborating and upholding the system in the hopes of getting a little higher on a ladder, that in the end, is not actually a ladder- not everyone can get up and down it, there’s always a limit because the people you end up supporting are those who are holding you down.
Agreeing to throw chains on others so you get more comfortable chains doesn’t free anyone, and will never see you free of chains either.