Language Politics #13)distinctions within privilege and oppression

September 3, 2008

Though I think all of these distinctions are concepts that are familiar to folks in the anti-oppression world, it’s important to give them names because different forms are frequently confused or conflated. It’s especially problematic when this conflation is used to further marginalize a group of oppressed people, as commonly happens to trans folks, particularly but not exclusively those on a female/feminine spectrum.

External privilege is when other people give you something;
Internalized privilege is when you expect it.

Dominance is privilege that is harmful to other people and that no one should have;
Support is privilege that everyone should have, and is not on its own harmful to anyone else.

For instance: A habit of attempting to dominate conversations is internalized dominance, and actually being allowed to do so is external dominance; speaking up for oneself is a sign of internalized support, while actually being listened to is external support.

Parallel distinctions exist within oppression:

Subordination is oppression that is harmful to the oppressed person, that denies hir space, resources, self-esteem, etc that everyone should have.
Accountability is oppression that (as odd as it sounds) everyone should have, the inability to dominate, oppress, do violence unto others, etc and get away with it.

To continue our earlier example, being conscious of everyone else in a conversation and what they have to say is internalized accountability; external accountability is getting the smackdown if you don’t. Not speaking up, or allowing other people to interrupt/silence you is a sign of internalized subordination; when people actually do it it’s external subordination (especially if calling them on it doesn’t work).

When one fails to act according to one’s external oppression status, either through internalized support/dominance or through having worked at personal growth and healing, frequently the Kyriarchy reasserts its ordering and tells the person in question to get back in hir place–and a rather unpleasant situation happens. When it’s dominance and accountability that are in question, it can be called (an attempt at) holding hir accountable (duh), but I propose to name the other half of this phenomenon insubordination–refusing to obey the rules, demanding inclusion and respect, trying to take or make the space and resources one needs to live well, etc etc.

When one insubordinates, according to the naturalized order of the Kyriarchy, one is “taking up too much space,” being “too demanding,” and “going too far”–precisely because, under that order, one is not worth that space, resource, consideration, etc. This is to be expected.

One Response to “Language Politics #13)distinctions within privilege and oppression”

  1. shiva said

    I kind of agree with these distinctions, but i’m having trouble getting my head round the ideas of “privilege that everyone should have” and “oppression that everyone should have”, because in my system of definitions, privilege and oppression are things that no one should have, because they shouldn’t exist at all.

    Put alternatively, i don’t disagree that support and accountability should apply to everyone – i just don’t think that support should be classified as “privilege” or that accountability should be classified as “oppression”, because i think that kind of muddies the core-for-me concept of fighting for a world where there is neither privilege nor oppression…

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