The Importance of Listening as a Privileged Person Fighting for Justice

Everyday FeminismThis is a strange position to be in!  Though I am writing a lot of new content lately, I am now in my third week of not having to post something new to my blog directly!  As a contributing writer to Everyday Feminism, I am expected to write two articles per month for the site.  Well, lately my articles had been backlogged at the site, and now they are all getting published.  I am still writing new content for CFW, but I will keep it in the wings until there is a week when I am not being published elsewhere.

In the mean time, enjoy this week’s post from Everyday Feminism.

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The Importance of Listening as a Privileged Person Fighting for Justice

In my work with high school students, I am regularly asked, “What can I do? I know that injustice exists, but I feel so powerless. I want to help!”

More often than not, the students asking the question is doing so from a place of privilege: a straight student who wants to be a better LGBTQ ally, a white student who wants to be more anti-racist, an able-bodied person who wants to better support his differently-abled brother.

It’s no surprise to me that folks of privilege are the ones struggling to figure out how to act for justice. More often than not, those who are denied access, voice, privilege, and justice in dominant culture know exactly what they need to do to act for justice.

Those of us with identity privilege, though, can simply coast, never considering how our unchecked privileges contribute to a system of oppression.

To that point, my answer to their question is always the same: “Listen.”

Listening Is the Root of Justice

There are lots of steps that someone can take to become a better ally, but surely there is no more important step than listening.

I was raised in a culture where I benefit from a great many privileges.  I am cis-male, white, straight, English-speaking, and able-bodied, and I come from a family of wealth privilege. In the words of Louis CK“How many advantages can one person have!?” 

With those unearned advantages comes a little voice that tells me that I am always right, that I am above reproach, that I have power and deserve power.

And not only does this little voice tell me that I am always right, but it tells me that there is no need to listen to the voices of those who are different from me.

“What could they possibly teach me?”

And therein lies the arrogant lack of perspective that can come with any form of identity privilege.

After all, when a person lives in a vacuum of privileged voices and perspectives, how brilliant can said person be?

Men who refuse to listen to women, cis folk who ignore trans* voices, white people who ignore people of color… In every case, we are denying ourselves the knowledge of powerful perspectives.

And because privilege conceals itself from those who have it, those of us who benefit from identity privilege are often unaware of the perspectives we deny, silence, and stifle with our voice.

As such, I’ve done a lot of silencing in my life, but most of it wasn’t active. I haven’t simply talked over someone or shouted someone down.

Instead, I’ve resorted to one of my most powerful weapons as a person of privilege: my refusal to listen.

For example, white people like myself are taught that we shouldn’t listen to voices of color. After all, if we did, we wouldn’t need study after study to prove that racism is real and that we don’t live in a “post-racial” society.

We would simply be able to hear it in the stories and voices of those folks of color that must live in our racist society every single day.

Read the rest of the article at Everyday Feminism!

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One thought on “The Importance of Listening as a Privileged Person Fighting for Justice

  1. Thank you for this! I have shared it (via the EF link) far and wide. I grew up a white, working class, queer and genderqueer kid in Oklahoma. My partner grew up ethnically white but visibly Native American, working class, queer and transgender here. I am a victim advocate; he is an EMT. Checking our own privilege and calling out each others’ privilege is a way of life for us and (at least some of!) the folks within our social/chosen family circle, although we are certainly not immune to reactionary feelings when called out. But generally, the response within our crew to being called out is, “Wow, thanks for pointing that out! That really IS a fucked-up thing to say,” or, “Oh, hey, I didn’t realize but I guess that DOES come from x privilege.” Sometimes we can forget that this is not the common response, when we call out privilege – either within or outside that group – and butt up against somebody’s strong defensiveness.

    I’ve shared this article with my Facebook & Twitter world, and specifically recommended it to my local victim advocacy organization.

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