Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Privilege of Ignorance

Something people who talk about privilege don't talk about much:

Part of your majority privilege is the luxury of being ignorant.

I have heard so many times "I didn't know strobe lights were problematic". Really? REALLY?? I do not understand, what with the signs and warnings on things and the hurrhurrseizure jokes that people who wouldn't know a seizure if it bit them on the ass make. People who don't have epilepsy don't have to worry about it, even a little, so they make their inane jokes and gloss over the warnings and notifications. They don't realize how many lights are everywhere. A friend even said to me this week that he didn't realize how much flashy crap is everywhere until we started hanging out. Most people have the luxury of not giving a shit.

People are blissfully unaware of noises. They are blissfully unaware of smells. Oh so many people are blissfully unaware that their behavior and language marginalizes people. I had a dean at a college tell me she didn't know what erasing a person is while she was doing it. People have the privilege of not knowing the first thing about a person or group of people while simultaneously treating them as less-than. Many men are utterly unaware that being a woman is sometimes absolutely terrifying. People without disabilities are utterly unaware that being a disabled woman is even more so. They don't have to know.

I recognize there are things I have the privilege of ignorance about as well. I do not have to be aware of sidewalks and curb cuts and such, for I do not need a mobility aid. I know these things are problematic, but I don't have to think about them. There are a number of aspects of GLBTQ existence that I am unaware of because they aren't part of my every day life. I recognize that I am privileged in this way, that a lot of people do have to take a whole lot of other factors into mind, but that doesn't mean I know what they are.

In short, ignorance of other people's daily existence comes with privilege. It isn't someone's fault that they have that privilege, but it is their fault if they refuse to acknowledge it.


Cara Liebowitz said...


THIS. SO MUCH. as a woman with a physical disability the whole "you're not aware of stuff b/c you're privileged" stuff really applies to my life a lot. will post this on tumblr (flutterflyinvasion.tumblr.com)

Ettina said...

Reminds me of how my perception of my university changed once I started hanging out with wheelchair users regularly. There were elevators I never knew existed in buildings I hung out in all the time. There were passageways I took all the time which were not at all accessible. There were even entire colleges that weren't accessible - one of my friends decided against a certain major partly for that reason.

Anonymous said...

Here's a perfect example of that ignorance: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/stuck/201012/her-other-personality-is-racist
Raise your hand if you're tired of people treating neurodiversity like its a mental disorder.