As a black woman married to a white woman, privilege is a subject that comes up often in my household. Usually, white privilege is what we’re discussing and in that context, I’m the person who’s marginalized. What we rarely discuss are the ways in which I’m privileged. Yes, even as a black gay woman, who comes from a lower-income family, there are times when I walk in privilege. Sometimes those who are marginalized are so concerned with how society is treating them — with valid reason — that we fail to see how our own privileges oppress others.
With the recent police shootings, a known racist running the Justice Department, and a white supremacist appointed chief policy advisor to the President, these days, I have to admit, it has been hard dissecting my own privilege. Being a person of color in this country, you are constantly face to face with institutionalized racism or microaggressions. But surprisingly, with the election of Donald Trump, I’m reminded of my privileges as a marginalized person. For example, my immigration status, under his administration is safe, but I know many whose statuses are not safe.
Since Christianity is the societal norm, non-religious people like myself have encountered microaggressions, but under the Trump administration, Muslim-Americans and Muslim immigrants are facing severe discrimination. Conflating terrorism and Islam have caused Muslims to be profiled by law enforcement, targeted for assaults and disparaged by politicians.
My immigration status and religion aren’t the only ways I’m privileged. Being a cisgender, able-bodied feminine gay woman, I walk more comfortably through society than a transgender individual or disabled person. Or even sometimes, my white wife, who presents masculine of center. As a femme lesbian, I can walk through society and not have to announce my sexuality and not be subjected to harassment or discrimination. While a cisgender white woman may encounter marginalization under patriarchy, she also benefits from white privilege. The thing about privilege is it exists and operates in our lives whether or not we want it or are aware of it. It’s what we do with that privilege that sets us apart from the oppressors.
Equal rights and equal access for gays and lesbians have been at the center of our human rights fight for decades, but we have continued to drop the ball when it comes to being concerned with the rights, safety and equal access for trans individuals. I have been guilty of this too. In complete fear of the legality of my marriage being dismantled, I have put the concerns of trans women and men in the back of my mind. That’s not to say I don’t have reason to be concerned about my marriage under a Republican run government, or that gays and lesbians aren’t still being actively discriminated against. We are. I just must be aware that equality doesn’t stop at race or sexuality.
Transgender women and men face exceptionally higher levels of discrimination, violence and assault than cisgender people. But trans women of color encounter discrimination and violence at higher rates than their white counterparts, according to National Center for Transgender Equality.
This is why we must understand intersectionality and be aware of our own advantages. Yes, white women are only making eighty cents for every dollar paid to men, but women of color are making sixty cents to every dollar paid to men. We can no longer focus solely on the issues that affect white, middle-class, cisgender women. We must examine and check how we as marginalized people can sometimes be the oppressor. Speaking up for those who are sometimes voiceless doesn’t erase my marginalization. But refusing to acknowledge and use my privilege to lift up those marginalized in different ways make me no better than the people who oppress me.
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