Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Privilege, Oppression, and Difference

In the article, Privilege, Oppression and Difference by Allan G. Johnson I found his thesis to be found within his opening paragraph. I believe the thesis to be, “The trouble that surrounds difference is really about privilege and power— the existence of privilege and the lopsided distribution of power that keeps it going.” (12) Johnson is stating that certain groups of people are given certain privileges that others groups are not as lucky to have because privileges are more of what society has come to label certain people with having.

Johnson begins the article by stating how difference by itself is not the issue. He stated how “the real illusion connected to difference is the popular assumption that people are naturally afraid of what they don’t know or understand.” (13) Johnson is saying that because we are afraid of the unknown we tend to make our own judgments or come to our own assumptions of what we believe to be true about the mystery people. He stated that children have an innocence about themselves which the unknown attracts them. Yet, as they grow older they become more fearful of the unknown because at this point this is what they have been taught. Johnson stated that “if we feel afraid, it isn’t what we don’t know that frightens us, it’s what we think we do know.” (13) He later goes on to talk about how people use differences they share with other people to determine who to “include or exclude, reward or punish, credit or discredit, elevate or oppress, value or devalue, leave alone or harass.” (16) He goes on to say how people create quick impressions of people and their status. We judge before we know. The American culture is sets standards of how people should be whereas many other countries do not hold the same standards. Instead they accept the people as they are no matter their sex characteristics, the race of the individual, or their sexual orientation. Johnson says how a black woman in Africa does not see herself as being Black but just simply a woman. Where she is from race is non-existent but if that same woman was to come here to America she would be labeled black and she will also obtain certain privileges based on her new label. He uses the same example again but this time with the use of a Norwegian farmer who after coming to America greatly accepts the label of being white due to the many privileges he now has obtained from it. (18) Johnson ends the article with defining privilege according to how Peggy McIntosh describes it. McIntosh says that “privilege exists when one group has something of value that is denied to others simply because of groups they belong to, rather than because of anything they’ve done or failed to do.” (21) People seem to fail to realize the privileges they hold while being in a certain group because it has become a way of life for them. It is like the saying, “You never know what you have until it’s gone.”

With all of this being said, it raises the question of whether or not these privileges still exist today in our present society? The answer is as clear as night and day, yes. Being a woman, being bi-racial, and being short I know I am not entitled to certain privileges that others may have. I have come to realize that women have to prove themselves more than males and African Americans still have to fight to obtain certain goals or accomplishments. But one thing I have come to realize by being outside of the box that Johnson didn’t really mention is that even though males and whiteness have more privileges black women sometimes have more of a privilege than black males. This is in part of the fact that black males have more stereotypes they carry with them during their lifetime when black women can sometimes have it a little easier because they are a woman. Also, people in today’s society still do judge or rather bring about their own assumptions about certain people that have different sexual orientation and those that are disabled.

I thought this article was very interesting and had much insight. Johnson does a good job providing details and examples of what he is referring to. I just believe it is really sad how screwed up this country is. I mean even though we are suppose to be a free country but sometimes I wonder just how free are we? I mean we can’t be that free if we are constantly being judged of who we are. Freedom… True freedom comes about when we are accepted as just being human.

No comments: