Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Victim Privilege List

There has been a flurry of discussion about privilege lists lately, triggered by a thread at Feminist Critics, and the response by Ampersand, the author of one of the most popular lists: the Male Privilege Checklist.

I was interested in the topic a while ago, even going so far as indulging in some fun by writing my own Female Privilege List. But I also reached the conclusion that the use of these lists had become silly. I can see some real value in them - it is useful to read something like the White Privilege List (the one that led to all these), or the Average Sized Person Privilege List. They are a useful tool to help you reflect on things that you might take for granted, and advantages other people may not have.

But their use has gone well beyond that. If you read any feminist discussions, all they talk about is privilege. Here is one example. Arguments center not on facts, reasoning or evidence, but rather on the relative privilege of the people staking opposing claims; any good feminist will discount a male's position purely because it comes from a "privileged" position. Women of Color feminists will discount the views of white feminists for the same reason. Even Muslim feminists are learning how seductive privilege rhetoric is - now there is a Muslim Male Privilege List!

I believe that assertions of privilege are just a rhetorical technique used to discount opposing positions. They serve as an amulet to protect ideologies from dissonant views. When I read the Feminist Critics discussion, I was gratified to find that I am not alone in this.

So to have some more fun, and to further illustrate the ridiculous hold these lists have on web discourse, I've written a Victim Privilege List. It is a short one - after all, victims wouldn't be victims if they have lots of privileges! But I think some of these demonstrate why people fight for the victim flag, and how the winner of that flag gains a "privileged" position in discussions and debate. I'm hoping the last one properly conveys the weird paradox of all this nonsense.

And by the way - number 3 is an analog of one of the silly "Male Privileges" - number 11.

The Victim Privilege List

Privileges I have as a member of a historically oppressed group that others (people who haven't suffered from oppression) lack:

1. People I respect have taught me that I come from a long line of ancestors who were forced to survive in the face of hatred and adversity. Others go through life completely clueless about how lucky they are.

2. If I'm lucky enough to live in a post-modern Western country, I can commit heinous acts against others, and remain certain that at least some others will defend me.

3. If I live in a post-modern Western society, I can enjoy the fact that I'll always find other people who will reliably shower me with extraordinary praise for my accomplishments - even if the things I've done are routine for others.

4. If I live in a post-modern Western society, I can be sure that some other people will covet any praise I bestow as a certification that they are good people.

5. I can argue that others believe as they do because deep institutional and historical forces have bred bias and bigotry into the depth of their souls.

6. I can be sure that when others criticize me, it can’t be because I've done anything wrong. I've learned not to waste time listening to such bigots.

7. I can be sure that when I get angry, it isn’t for selfish reasons, but rather because the experience of my people has fostered in me a keen sensitivity to injustice. When others get angry, it is yet another sign of their hatred.

8. I can be sure that when others tell me I'm wrong about something, it means they lack insight, perspective and empathy.

9. I can be certain that any negative views of my people aren’t due to anything we've done. After all, my people have a long history of this sort of bigotry from others.

10. I can be certain that any negative views of me personally just reflect hateful stereotypes promoted by others.

11. I can be dead certain that my negative views of others are based on reality, truth and hard experience, because my people have schooled me on the sneaky depravity of those other people.

12. I can be certain that my own personal advancement represents the culmination of a grand historical march towards human equality. Others just seek advancement for their own aggrandizement.

13. I enjoy the satisfaction of knowing my efforts are focused on supporting those those who are truly needy. I refuse to be distracted by other people's whining.

14. I can be grateful that the one redeeming benefit of all my suffering, and the suffering of my people, is that it has earned me the privilege of seeing how privilege corrupts others.


l4n3 said...

Outstanding, #7 is priceless.

David Schraub said...

I feel like when you strip away the one's that are non-unique to "victims" (#s 1, 2, the first half of 6, 8, 9), the ones that are not "privileges" so much as patronizing annoyances (3, 4), and the ones that have no relationship at all to the discourse you're satirizing (11, 12 -- what self-respecting post-modernist would ever say that anything represents the "culmination of a grand historical march towards human equality"? Are you serious?), this list gets a lot smaller in a hurry.

Sweating Through fog said...


Thanks for stopping by.

I agree with you that these rhetorical styles are not unique to victims.

I think 11 and 12 are directly related to what I am satirizing - once the claim of your privilege vs. my victimization is ceded, my personal hatred is easily cast as righteous anger, and what is seen in you as selfish pursuits can be characterized in me as winning new opportunities for my people.

This list is short, and you can, with some justification, argue that it is shorter Nevertheless people - in the liberal West anyway - fight tenaciously for these rhetorical privileges.

Stephen said...

I think that all of these lists have some value, both for what they teach us about ourselves, and the way they help us to see others and to frame discussion.

I read this list and I understand some people better, I read the White Male Privilege List and I understand an era (about twenty years ago) a good deal better, not to mention the assumptions and subsumptions of others better as well.

Sweating Through fog said...


Thanks for stopping by. I agree there is some value in the lists, because they allow you to see other perspectives. What I object to is he way assertions of privilege are used to shut down discussions.

Evil Bender said...

What I object to is he way assertions of privilege are used to shut down discussions.

Interesting that is would come from someone who would write that "any good feminist will discount a male's position purely because it comes from a "privileged" position."

You're engaged in precisely the behavior you condemn. It's much easier to argue against a caricature, isn't it?

Sweating Through fog said...

What discussion did I shut down?

Laura said...

But surely the image of "victims" that you put forth in this list - if it is believed to apply to all people who assert themselves as lacking in privilege, who engage in these discussions and who point out the privilege of others - is a far more powerful way to "discount opposing positions."

The person pointing out privilege might say "Your privileged perspective on this issue doesn't allow you to fully understand how it affects me, thus your argument on this issue deserves less weight." That's not an irrational position.

But by convincing oneself that victims of privilege are able to discount opposing positions for unjustified reasons, someone who believes this list is able to attribute any disagreement to those unjustified reasons. "Oh, they're just convincing themselves that any time they're insulted, it's because of bigotry and not because they deserve criticism, when actually it's never because of bigotry because there are no problems with that type of bigotry anymore."

The thoughts and privileges that you attribute to these "victims" are ideas that are persistently and constantly used to discount the positions of those people in arguments. You say these things allow victims to discount opposing positions, but in fact it is holding these believes that allows just the opposite. Basically, convincing oneself of the truth of the Victim Privilege List is a privilege - and a tool used to silence or ignore the voices of the marginalized.