Friday, July 23, 2010

Privilege, Part 1

This year has really been a life-changing year for me, in so many ways.  I got married, I travelled to a foreign country, I learned that it is, in fact, possible to be happy AND fat, and that "fat" is not a dirty word.  Through my media studies course, and my Fat Acceptance and Feminism reading, I've also been learning a lot about privilege, and about how it is impossible for us to view the world without our filter in place, or to view it through someone else's filter - but that we can make adjustments to our filter, if we choose.

In a coincidence that smacks of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, I've recently encountered the skin-whitening industry through several independent media outlets, and have had a couple of brief discussions with an Indian friend of mine (Legally Alien) about it.  One discussion was triggered by Melinda Tankard Reist's blog post about the industry and the advertising it uses.  Some commentors on her post raised similar issues to Legally Alien: that MTR's description of this as "white supremacy" smacks of white ethnocentrism - that if Indian people want to have white skin, it must be because they want to be more like Western, white people.  I'm not going to go into the real causes here, mostly because I don't fully understand those causes myself yet.  I know the caste system is involved in India, and other class distinctions in other Asian countries.  But I don't know enough about any of those causes to comment on it myself.

My point (and I do have one, and yes, it's related to my post title, I promise!) is that of course MTR viewed this desire for white skin through (at least partially) a white, Western filter.  Even as a feminist/activist/advocate, it's not possible for her to completely remove her filter.  She's probably far more aware of it than most people, but it's still there.  The interesting thing for me was that, even though she makes very little reference to why some cultures value white skin, people assumed that she assumed it was because they wanted to be like white Westerners, because that is what she is.  That's a lot of assuming. And you know what they say when you assume something...

So anyway, as a white, middle class person in a developed, democratic country, I have oodles of privilege.  Bags and bags of it.  But I like analysing that, and looking at other cultures and societies and religions and people and traditions and, well, everything!  But I'm always scared, that as a member of the dominant culture, if I ask a question about that sort of thing, I'm going to look like a stupid, privileged white person.  I have a couple of good friends (including Legally Alien) that I feel comfortable asking "stupid" questions, because I know that they understand my motivation and that I'm genuinely interested.  But sometimes I don't ask questions, because I don't want to offend people, which is sad.  Surely open dialogue to learn more about each other benefits everyone?

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