Life-improvement advice for the privileged


#143

Yes, that’s really good.

It is the application of the general to specific that I was trying to describe, but it just didn’t come into focus in the way you’ve stated it just here. You put your finger on it.


The other thread to untangle from that statement–and maybe you can help me out here (because I even have an issue with white privilege as a concept…but not in the obvious way you would think. So try to hear me out). My problem is with the category of “white” from which “white privilege” then stems. The idea of who is white has changed so much, and so often, that I think it’s a false step. The different people* that colonized the Americas (English, German, French, Spanish mostly) did not group themselves together as being “white”. They would have considered themselves very different from each other and in competition with each other. (and to look back into history and just be like, “nahhhh, you’re white” disregarding that they would never group themselves together is…I don’t know what it is…it’s as bad as telling the Hootoos an the Tootsies that they’re the same type of people…cuz from where we’re standing they’re “close enough”.)

*and I mean specifically the ‘owners’ who advanced their industries (be they the heads of the East India Tea Company, the conquistadors, or the Calvinist church leaders). I am specifically not talking about the unfortunate poor people that were spirited away and made to work for these vampires (which includes people from different tribes of black people (who again would not have considered themselves to be of the same grouping and would have otherwise been in competition), as well as the Irish, English poor, and others)

So why do I bring this up?
Because–from my understanding–white privilage is the grooves through which modern day white people can slip-a-dip more easily up the social or economic ladder (there are other grooves, and new grooves can be cut in but just like when you drop a needle on a record it follows a track that has less resistance than these other methods).

So the error is: that it wasn’t “white people” that carved those grooves into society to begin with–since there was no such self-definition then–It’s a lens we’re projecting onto the past that suits our modern definition. And even our modern idea of who is white is only about 60 years old with the inclusion of Italians during WWII (Thaddeus Russell is currently writing a book on this very subject and I’m very eager to read how our idea of whiteness was synthetically constructed then).

So how can we say that since white people set up the US that white people will benefit from it.

Perhaps this is too complex/abstract a thing to try to describe.


#144

I totally see where you’re going with this, and don’t disagree.

I think the idea of whiteness has changed a lot in recent history, and continues to change. In some ways it is a stand in for the idea of racialized power structures, which are very real.

When I say “white privilege” I’m referring more to those that the systems see as “white”, rather than some ancestral claim. This is definitely a moving target, and the historical context will impact people’s experience of it as well as how much they are accepted into it.

Edit: This is spoken as a Jewish person, who even during the last US election saw articles arguing about the “whiteness” of jews. Not to mention the whole conflation of religion and racial identity… i.e. Judaism is a religion not a race. Whole other thread there :slight_smile:


#145

Agree … but in the last instance, I think Trump arrived because the historical situation of the subject of privilege has collapsed. The economic violence done against the subject is symptomatic but more so is the total loss of hope and in particular collapse of the time-structure that had formerly sustained hope.

Time has reversed direction, in other words. Where formerly the present was grounded in the past, and the future served as a means for escape (flying cars, Mars colonies), today the present is grounded in the future, (in the sense of the smart/connected city being “already there”, just not yet fully functioning). This future has no use, no place for the privileged subject and thus the past becomes the subject’s means of escape (primarily through the “lost futures” that haunt the present). The future is our new past; the past our new future.

The difference in the two futures is best grasped aesthetically.

Old future = electronic music in its classic era, in particular all variants of “space music” (from Stockhausen to Tangerine Dream). Space being the “final frontier” that glorifies the human, extending human technological domination out into the cosmos. It also flows from Buckminster Fuller, Stewart Brand and so on, the human potential movement, Age of Aquarius etc. It is uncanny how these notions formerly thought “progressive” are in essence intensifications of the subject’s core positionality (the drive to conquer Nature, to intensify the subject(Man)-Nature split; “Nature” one of the many "they"s of the constituting subject)

New future = the disturbing Youtube kids’ videos discussed by James Bridle which freely mix popular animated characters, syringes, severed heads, toy unboxing, bleach drinking and violent pornographic content in a concoction (at the level of content itself, not just annotation) that can only be produced at the level of the platform itself, as an aggregate of SEO strategy.

Bridle:

The future is inhuman to the extent that the subject of privilege has nothing “within the human” to properly correlate its contents, in other words that the transcendental constituting-power fails and simply comes up with nonsense or a void. In other words, solutions cannot even be thought by the subject of privilege.

Is there even a proper aesthetic response? Even any production by Jon Rafman or James Ferraro seems by comparison safe, normal, and human (and thus superfluous, an aesthetic dead end) compared to the infinitely weirder structures issuing from the platform itself.

So what can the subject of privilege to do, except look to the past?

But being a subject of privilege, this is where things turn deadly. Nostalgia is never innocent. It does not really posit an object but reveal a negation, a void. The subject, simply by being a subject is autopoietic, continually regenerating the conditions responsible for its existence – and this too especially when the subject tries to discuss privilege. For the subject of privilege this means violently offloading all of these anxieties onto those the subject constitutes as “others” (the “they”), since the division “we”/'they" is constitutive of the subject of privilege. Trump’s genius was in synthesizing the subject’s post-historical wish for escape into the past: (MAGA) with the subject’s autopoietic drive which manifests by repeating and intensifying the originary gestures of violence out of which the subject of privilege first emerged.

If there is a solution, it lies neither in maintaining the privileged subject nor in accelerating towards or embracing this non-future. The linear progression of Western historical time (itself an invention of the subject of privilege) must give way not even to a cyclic one (repeating fascist gestures) but to the figure-eight of resilience theory, by opening oneself neither to the “we” or the “they” but to the unmentioned ones, the radically immanent humanity not yet in the grasp of any subject-constitution. Out of this, which could well be within the realms of science fiction and contemporary esotericisms – anything with a particularly fictional or speculative bent that is NOT being discussed at the moment – but in the sense of enacting these fictions, making them real in ways they fundamentally transform thinking – can actualize “backloop strategies” that can bring forth a radically new (and constitutively post-historical) subject. Refreshingly distinct from the “accelerationist” discourse that offers no hope and has increasingly also been taken up by the far right, Stephanie Wakefield has some interesting (and optimistic!) arguments as to how a new subject may come about:


#146

On the subject of Living in the Back Loop, Stephanie mentions a sci-fi book by Kim Stanley Robinson, called New York 2140. It’s an excellent book, extremely well researched and written, and thoroughly entertaining. In spite of its dark setting, it too, is hopeful, ultimately. Highly recommended.


#147

I’d like to poke some thoughts and experiences into the discussion. If this is too personal or off-topic of an anecdote, I’ll happily put it away. It’s always a good exercise to check ones own privilege, to be mindful of the past and how you’ve gotten to where you are. I find myself thinking about economic and social realities of music (and art) production often.

I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama and lived there up until a few years ago. The city is roughly 71% black and 22% white. I do not feel I can do any sort of justice to the history of Birmingham in words here. I do not feel I can do any justice to the complications of racial dynamics present in the city. It is a massive, post-industrial populace, and a beating heart of white supremacy and hatred.

I am a very white person with a very white name. I grew up in consistent economic poverty. Neither of my parents went to college, and one did not finish grade school. None of us were ever targeted by police.

Public school systems in poor areas are a joke- I sailed through grade school with honors and without challenge. One parent brought me to the library pretty often, and I enjoyed books and encyclopedias from a young age. Many folks in my graduating class were barely at a functional reading level.

Take note:
-One parent cared enough to bring me to the library
-And had enough time to do that and
-We had a car to take us to the library

We received a lot of hand-me-downs from other parts of my family, and financial help when needed- we never struggled with homelessness. Some of those hand-me-downs included a computer in 1995 and an old car. I explored the internet, read voraciously, and discovered electronic music. I had a car that I could use to go places, including work. I was able to get a job in high school.

This is all so clearly steeped in privilege. Growing up and living in a depressed area put me in direct contact with peers who were very different and very similar in many and varying ways. A friend has a computer and fast internet and we play fun games and talk about music, and his father beats him when he is drunk. A friend likes the same music I do, we have a discussion and its great, and we are not welcome at one another’s lunch tables. Some of my peers only had food available at school or other functions, others have never learned how to drive or have a job.
One point being: the struggles experienced by my family were never completely ruinous to us. They were real struggles. We experienced food insecurity. It’s luck of the genetic draw that we had family members with money and resources that were able to share with us in times of need.
Two point being: Most of my peer group was poor, and there are massive differences in the types of privileges in each of our lives. There is plenty of relative power to be weighed in an entire economic class, depending on individual circumstance.

Fast forward; a stable work history, “some college experience,” a few friends in a good-old-boys-run finance corporation, and I had a job that paid unbelievably well. I cycled through gear purchases often enough. The job made me miserable. Fortunes are made in finance from betting against others, ripping lives apart, and predatory behavior. I am fully guilty of those behaviors while working there. I was able to save up enough money to throw it all away, move clear across the country, “find myself” etc, buy a modular synthesizer, and explore living without a plan for a little while. An absolute wealth of privilege from working in moneyworld for a few years via a chance connection. Just don’t think about the work too hard, right?

I live very close to the bone now. What’s the joke, the $7000 synthesizer in a $700 car, driven 70 miles to play for 7 people? I work a weird job that allows me time to do focus on music, I live in a weird place and a weird way that’s cheap enough to allow that. I’ll likely be driven out by some gentrifying force that I myself am actively contributing to. But I am able to pursue my music, the thing that keeps us all up at night dreaming about numbers and wires. My cup overflows.

The only resource I currently have to share with others is my support and my voice. When I have the opportunity of a listening ear, I share others before myself. When I have a podium available, I love finding excellence to put on it. I have had plenty enough given to me already, and I have directly contributed to systems perpetuating terrible in the world. My cup overflows.


#148

The category of “white” exists because the categories of “black” and “brown” exist; and while those people may not have seem themselves as a group that is “white”, they certainly discriminated against people who had darker skin.


#149

I feel compelled to highlight these two quotes, perhaps just out of personal resonance (college) and cleverness (the latter)


#150

In regards to this, I suggest reading Nell Irving Painter’s exhaustively researched and excellently written The History of White People which explores how the concept of “whiteness” and a “white race” was created (and enlarged over time), specifically in the opposition to the “other” (largely non-Europeans, but always not exclusively so). It mainly explores the history scientific racism from the Enlightenment to the modern era.


#151

to this point, highly recommend reading this one all the way to the end.


#152

RE: race vs. class - there are a lot of quotes I could pull from this article

Even when children grow up next to each other with parents who earn similar incomes, black boys fare worse than white boys in 99 percent of America. And the gaps only worsen in the kind of neighborhoods that promise low poverty and good schools.

Poor white children struggle in parts of the Southeast and Appalachia. But they still fare better there than poor black children do in most of America. In effect, the worst places for whites produce outcomes that are about as good as the best places for blacks.


#153

Maybe there is a better place for this article to live, but I wanted to post it somewhere here. Fascinating and sobering, I find it related to the topic of privilege in terms of the extraction of natural resources and destruction of plant and animal life for the financial benefit of the relative few. As a middle class person in USA, I would count myself as a beneficiary of this.


#155

I did not ask for this life, or earn this body, or deserve my parents, or design my upbringing. None of us do.

Everything from the first breath is a gift, and those of us who have been given more gifts from that point onward are bound to share. In the end the love you take is equal to the love you make. Life goes on, bra, la la how the life goes on.


#156

I personally think self-selection as a method of understanding race can mislead and obscure an actual materialist understanding of race. I recommend On the Invention of the White Race by Theodore Allen to explain this a bit better. Here is a summary.


#157

The one thing I want to note about this conversation—and this is totally little! I just think it’s interesting how frequently it happened, and thought it might be worth mentioning. Anyway that one thing is how whenever anyone mentioned the word “systemic” (@emenel’s posts had a bunch of this, but I don’t mean to call you out at all, just to give an example) things like passive voice

and impersonal Others (“theys”) crept in. Obviously this is not malicious! Thinking in big terms is hard, and from where many of us sit, it’s not possible to place blame on any one person or set of people.

Part of what I took @Angela’s and @Rodrigo’s posts to be addressing is that all of that notwithstanding, more is true. Particular people did wrong. The statistics @kirklandish pointed out are the chaotic result of actions people took, actions that influence us all today in wild, nonlinear ways. Awareness of one’s place in all of that is great! But my view is, just as you don’t need to be aware of Baroque composers like Rameau or Lully to engage in making music today, so too could it be the case that awareness (of privilege and agreement on who is worse off in the abstract) is not required for people to be morally responsible members of their communities engaged in the causes of justice.


#158

Not required, but potentially helpful??


#159

I am not trying to reference some abstract “they” … This is very real, and I do think an understanding of the complexity of people’s lives and the systems we live in are crucial to working for justice at all scales, from personal to cultural and legal.

In my mind, the point of concepts like privilege and understanding systemic and historical issues are to help us really grok someone else’s perspective. Someone who has had a very different experience in life than I have.

For example, I’ve never been in a situation where my behaviour is deemed illegal because of the colour of my skin. Many other people have, and for me to really understand what’s happening it has to be more than about the individual incident - because it shapes cultures.

We’re not talking about ancient history, or past eras (i.e. Baroque period), we’re talking about things that continue to happen.

There are lots of examples of people working for justice, and having the best intentions, but totally excluding people or not really understanding the root of the issues because they don’t understand the history or take into account these types of systemic differences. (A recent example – https://www.vox.com/identities/2018/3/7/17082030/womens-march-louis-farrakhan-tamika-mallory-anti-semitism-controversy)

Maybe in my previous post that you quoted I should have said that we need to acknowledge what we continue to do wrong, rather than just what wrongs have been done in the past. This is not in the past.


#160

I find this really interesting, as I feel the main reason that I am following art and music as a career is because of my lack of privalage in certain areas.
Because of certain things I won’t go into, there is no way I could get a ‘regular’ job. I just couldn’t. Therefore I need to find an alternative, and it honestly feels like a living in the arts is my only option.
This feeds into other things too, I could never ever afford to buy a house and I can barely afford rent, so me and my girlfriend have just bought a house boat, at about 1/10 the cost of a very modest house, the loan for which costs less than rent. Living on a boat with a wood fired stove also happens to be my dream way of living.

None of this has been or will be easy, but 1. It’s more in line with what I want from life and 2. It’s basically my only option, so I have to do it.

So I think sometimes, certain privalages can give people access to the ‘easy’ path that ends up with them having a stable job they might hate etc.
A friend of mine trying to start up a theatre company quit his job to do that, as he knew he needed the pressure of this being the only option for him to make it work. If there is a stable income as a backup plan, he knew he was more likely to fail.
All of my friends that are leading really interesting lives are in one minotity or the other, they’re so used to fighting for every day stuff that fighting for their dreams isn’t much more of a step!
Edit: will also add that I am privileged in many other ways, namely I’m white, and living in a country with free healthcare that also has a very generous student loan programme, not mention that here my very existence is not illegal, like it would be in lots of places. It’s important to remember that provalahe is important and shouldn’t really be viewed as an empirical measurement of quality of life.


#161

Now, I don’t disagree that there are still issues with racism/sexism/oppression going on. And that there are specifically systemically racists institutions (police in the U.S.), but I question the ‘zero sum’ framing of the idea that because some people are oppressed, others are privileged.

Something you mentioned earlier in this thread is the idea of using language to communicate and to create empathy. Do you think the term (and concept) or privilege does that? Or rather, do you think the net gain of that term is positive?

Or does it, accidentally or otherwise, create alienation and diffused blame (more on this below)?

I’m not necessarily asking you this, just thinking out loud here.

(we’ve established on this thread and elsewhere, that we are in agreement with what the problems are, and needs to be done to fix them (policy wise). or at minimum, we do not have any large disagreements there)

So by creating and using zero-sum language (I have less, so you have more), it is not possible to decouple the ([un]intended) negative side effects of said language.

When you (again, not “you” you) speak to someone about privilege, does that create a positive engagement with the idea you are putting across more than it risks creating the inverse reaction from people who would otherwise be sympathetic?

I realize that that is a pragmatic and overly utilitarian reduction of what’s going on, but some of this is me trying to parse through my issues with the word/concept (earlier in the year I was trying to parse this through and read the article on White Fragility to see if that would explain it, but I don’t think it does, and have issues with that article independent of what we’re talking about here). Also, I realize that that isn’t a strong argument in that it is open to bad actors wilfully inverting what is trying to be said, or could be applied to something different (i.e. if racism is itself a thing or not).

But what I’m trying to say is that in order raise awareness about issues and to create empathy, there are probably better ways to do this that doesn’t risk ([un]willingly) laying blame on who would otherwise be a sympathetic listener/actor. Rather, how important is it that I personally feel privilege for me to do something about helping people who are oppressed? And is the first half of that more important than the second half? (obviously rhetorical)

There’s also this, which I feel is related to the above. By zero-sum framing the idea/problem as privileged vs oppressed, it means those who are not immediately oppressed are at fault. Now there is something to be said about “good men who do nothing” and all that, but even in your specific example(s) linked above, there are individuals who are racists/sexists. These people bare the brunt of the blame rather than them being a subset of systemic/privileged institution (which I don’t fully disagree with), but by diffusing the aperture of the problem, you minimize the ability to do something about it. (i.e. me believing I am privileged won’t stop a racist lawyer in NYC from yelling at restaurant employees)

*I don’t really think this needs saying here, particularly with how well this thread (and forum in general) has gone in the past, but I just want to make it clear that nothing I’m saying is personal, and a bunch of it is me thinking out loud trying to parse through the differences in how we view things.


#162

Thanks for this, and I totally agree that we’re in alignment overall around the issues.

I don’t see the concept of privilege, or systemic advantage, as zero-sum at all. We all exist in a multi faceted and complex state within our society, culture, and organizational systems. That position effects our individual lives and the lives of others. It’s not zero-sum, but it is important to acknowledge that our culture and systems favour some people (based on their attributes, our collective history, etc), and that when a system favours some people it hinders (or worse) some people as well.

I have seen these ideas have a net positive impact on where social justice and civil rights are headed, but it will be slow and there will be resistance along the way. The conversations happening around incidents like the Starbucks one, as well as with individual people from my own experience, have been deepened by these concepts, helping people express their experiences in new ways that more easily create empathy and understanding across different views.

One of the things I like about privilege as a concept is that it is not at all about blame. It’s about acknowledging each of our experiences and places within larger complex systems so that I can understand the impact of those systems and experiences of people not like “me”.

And when I say “we” in that sentence you quoted, I mean “we” as a society. I strongly believe in taking responsibility for my own individual actions, as well as my part in a larger society and owning some of the actions of that society as a whole. I live in it, I benefit from it, I am part of it. I do what I can do make it a more just place.

Yes, these are the actions of racist people. But that racism was supported when the rest of the people in the Starbucks didn’t intervene. It was supported when the police came and actually arrested the men, rather than reprimanding the employees for being racist. There will always be bad actors, but at the moment our culture and systems support them rather than deter them or work to change their beliefs. Their privilege is that they can call the cops on people who are doing nothing and have their views upheld by the law.

I don’t see this as diffusing at all. I see it as layering depth of understanding on my ability to act in the best way that I can in difficult and complex circumstances. It increases my ability to empathize with and understand the daily experience of people dealing with shit that is invisible to me, and how’s families have dealt with it for generations.

This isn’t an either-or. Individual actions are crucial and a key part to working against discrimination in all forms. Systemic intervention is also crucial. I feel that concepts like privilege, systemic discrimination, and an understanding of historical context help me develop deeper empathy and tackle all scales of thesis issues more competently, and I think that they are helping us as a society improve the way we talk about and think about these issues.


#163

I’m probably not understanding what you mean here, but isn’t what you said at the end the literal definition of zero-sum? That because a system is favoring some people, that it therefore must be hindering other people (in order to do so)?

It’s possible that you mean and in there somewhere, where the system is favoring some people and hindering others.

But that would then frame privilege as a proactive thing, and not just the remainder of ‘who is being oppressed’, which then blurs the definition of how people become privileged in the first place.

This is a bit hyperbolic, but I think some of this language and thinking is, in effect, what got Trump elected (and to a lesser degree caused Brexit). It is, by definition, divisive, though with good intention. It may very well be making inroads in specific communities, but even that I question if those positive impacts outweigh the negative impacts that come along with it.

I also want to be clear here in that what I am arguing against is the specific framing of privilege as being a requirement of wanting to enact positive social change. Why even put something about enacting positive social change within a ten-foot-pole’s reach of something that can be alienating at all?

I could just be an outlier here in that I agree with the problems and solutions, but have a problem with how its being framed, and the requirement of it being an ‘all in’ ideology.

I don’t want to sidetrack the specific discussion we’re having here, but this ties into discussions from earlier in this thread about how some people that are now considered white weren’t a couple of generations ago (Irish, Italian, Jews), so there’s a subset of the critique here that deals with how (specifically white) privilege doesn’t extend to these whites in a historically meaningful way. But that’s a different discussion altogether.