Epistemic Privilege

Often when people of color talk about race we are made to feel crazy. We’ll feel like we’re being told:

  • “It’s all in your head”
  • “You’re just another angry Black woman”
  • “You’re a reverse racist”
  • “Race isn’t a problem, you’re making it one.”

Sometimes we’re actually told these things directly. Sometimes I feel like I will go crazy talking about race and sometimes I feel complicit. Sometimes I feel this battle is hopeless.

I focus a lot on race, but I found that I experienced this recently when I tried calling out sexism. The conversation went something like this:

  • “It’s all in your head”
  • “You’re just another angry woman”
  • “You’re a reverse sexist”
  • “Sexism isn’t a problem, you’re making it one.”

It was infuriating because it was  SO  C L E A R   to me that this was blatant sexism and yet the conversation was turned back on me. I was made into the problem. I was made into the problem by adult White males who tried to put me in my place by saying a “women of my position” should not hold such views, should not call out sexism as sexism…

So let’s talk about fragility, vulnerability, and rage. And not only when it comes to race, but gender too.

Fragility:

  1. The fragility of whiteness prevents the conversation on race from progressing.
  2. The fragility of masculinity prevents the conversation on sexism from progressing (although I must admit this convo faces less of a wall than race).

Vulnerability:

  1. There is a level of vulnerability in choosing to talk about race. To recognize the regimes of truth that exist around you that privilege whiteness–that is, the ideology of whiteness.
  2. This vulnerability exists when you also try to challenge sexism and call it out for what it us.

Which leads me to what happens WHEN YOU CALL SOMETHING OUT FOR WHAT IT IS. People run for the hills.

Rage:

  1. I am angry that I am unable to get those who hold the power and privilege to see how this harms me.
  2. I am angry that I feel unable to change the social context.
  3. BUT, those who threaten me are angry too. They feel their grip is loosening. They have a failure of remembrance that allows them to think they could survive without me and people like me.

 

What I have is an epistemic privilege as a person of color and as a woman in talking about race and about gender. This privilege is both a gift and a burden. It places upon me the expectation to work for change, to fight for change. It places the burden on me and people like me to combat racism and sexism oftentimes alone, oftentimes as tokens of diversity, often as pawns within a larger system of covering up the racism and the sexism–and when that happens you are suddenly complicit.

So, let’s recognize our epistemic privilege–we each have our own unique form of it. And, let us learn from the privileges of others.

 

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