Privilege Shame

Dear You, 

I get it, you're uncomfortable being around others that have suffered because of You, because of your complicit-ness into systems of oppression, and because you have benefited from these systems. I get it. I used to feel the same way.

I used to feel it when women would call out #AllMen instead of being more specific. As a male, many attacks are directed to #AllMen, and initially, years ago, I felt victimized by it. After all, it wasn't my fault. I myself am a victim to the patriarchy, so why can't we just focus on the bad ones? I'm a good guy here, and all these man haters are just getting in the way of me being good. Obviously something is wrong with THEM, not me. I is perfect. 

At times I did get defensive, and even became overwhelmed by the 'lack of support' given to me as a Male. Life was tough for me back then as a male. I could go on and on about how I must have been back then, but thankfully I was introduced to The Patriarchy by Bell Hooks and her incredible novel 'All About Love'. I also started reading the works of other amazing women of color, who helped me define the systemic oppression in my live. I was also given a platform in the central Massachusetts community by incredible women of color to support my growth and the work I was doing. I need to point out there though, that no one owes us anything in our journey to question our own privilege. Everything that was given to me was due to incredible generosity, and not obligation.  

I learned about Privilege, I learned about Patriarchy, and I learned about everything else that goes into my Privilege equation. I learned about systemic oppression, and my role in upholding it, and the need to change it. Bell Hooks actually has a book called The Will to Change, specifically for Men. Since then, my work has focused on Intersectionality; specifically of Systemic Oppression and Mental Health, something rarely discussed these days.

And I have learned that the reality is, if we carry the privilege, we are benefiting from it. So it is #AllMen, #AllWhitePeople, #AllAblebodiedPeople, #AllRichPeople, #AllAmericans, #AllWesternEuropeans, #AllCisGendered, and so many more.

My work has led me to analyze the reaction that we have once we're approached about our privilege. What you're experiencing, that defensiveness, and rage, is Privilege Shame. Privilege shame, according to me, is the shame associated with ones privilege. Shame has two responses, you either shut down, or you rage. Does that sound familiar? Have you ever approached someone about their privilege and had them attack you, instead of the argument?Or maybe they just shut down? Has this happened to you?

Next time someone talks to you about your whiteness, or straigtness, or cis-genderness, or maleness, or anything at all, try to recognize your reaction to it. Are you feeling overwhelmed by everything associated with your privilege? Or are you getting defensive and personal in these conversations?

That is Privilege Shame. 

So why does this matter? Not only does recognizing Privilege shame help you in acknowledging your privilege and becoming a better, more supportive person, and a much better ally, it also defines the psychological damage you inflict on individuals with less privilege. 

Think of it this way, individuals with less privilege are dealing with oppression every single day, oppression that you, with your privilege, are complicit to, and can avoid. When you rage at us, for calling you out, you are no long complicit in our oppression, you are an active part of it. 

By allowing our discomfort from our own privilege prevent us from acting, we are no longer just complicit, we are part of the injustice. 

One of the worst forms of psychological damage comes from individuals with 'good' intentions who are not able to acknowledge their Privilege shame.

I've spoken about this before, without necessarily naming it, I have also discussed it's repercussions. Many of my relationships have suffered, not due to individuals not changing, but their initial reaction and failure to acknowledge the pain they were inflicting on me. Recently, one of these friends acknowledged his reaction to my speaking of his colonial privilege and how visiting a war zone should not just be for tourist purposes. Without him acknowledging that he was coming from a place of shame due to his privilege, and how that may have hurt me as he raged, I would have carried the wounds long after the conversation ended. But, because he acknowledged it, I was able to begin healing. 

So, are you acknowledging your privilege shame? And working to make it less impactful? 

Here are a few tips to remember:

1) Make sure it's a REAL acknowledgement. An acknowledgment is more than just saying I was a monster. An acknowledgment is an apology with a focus on the impact your reaction/action had to the other individuals. Read more here

2) Gain a better understanding into your privilege. This way you're prepared before the shame sets in. 

3) Remember that everyone has privilege in certain areas. Privilege shame will affect us ALL at one point or another. If you don't believe this can ever happen to you, then you have some unchecked privilege. Learn about shame. 

4) Remember that the damage doesn't come from people that don't change.  Because people do change, and they will admit that you were right, but never acknowledge their roll in harming you. But the reality is that you're harmed in the crossfire, and meant to feel like collateral damage afterwards by the same people. This reenacts another form of oppression, even after they recognize that you were right.

5) Ask those around you to help you identify your reactions, and how it's impacting them. No one owes you anything, but many individuals are more than happy to help, because we're awesome. You're welcome!

These are just a few tips that can help you on your journey. The last thing I'd like you to remember, is that this is not new. This is something individuals with less Privilege have dealt with for generations, and at a minimum, our entire lives. We are scarred from this, so when we don't want to even try having these conversations with you, you need to understand why. We are hurting, and we don't owe you, or anyone else, anything. We don't have to stand still as you rage at us, or shut down. 

Hoping you understand, 

Interested in joining the Life in my Days community? Check out our Belong page and subscribe to our newsletter below. 

Ahmad Abojaradeh is the Founder and Executive Director of Life in My Days. An Engineer, a world traveler, a Peer Support Specialist, and a Novelist. He hopes to spread awareness of living a life of wellness through his writing, workshops and speaker events. Follow Ahmad on twitterinstagram or facebook

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