Intersectionality and privilege: Dispatches from a body positivist on the frontlines

May 16 | Guest post by Minerva Siegel
Check your privilege pin by RiotCreeps

I've heard a lot of people express frustration within various communities lately because people aren't "checking their privilege." For example, cis-gender, white, able-bodied women on the small end of the plus size spectrum are trying to speak for everybody within body positive circles. They're making broad generalizations about the movement that are harmful and exclusionary of trans babes, the disabled, fat people, people of color, and those who don't conform to gender binaries. This kind of behavior is transforming the movement into something ugly that a lot of people don't want to identify with any longer.

So, how do you keep online spaces (like Instagram or Facebook) healthy while making minorities and other underrepresented people feel heard and welcome? Let's talk about how you can be a voice in a community, while being sure to check your own privilege within that particular space…

There's nothing wrong with having privilege

Let me start out by saying that there's nothing wrong with having privilege. Everyone has some degree of privilege in some spaces, and that's A-okay! What matters is what you decide to do with that privilege, and whether or not you are taking up too much space in a community in which you have lots of it — thereby trampling over marginalized voices that deserve to be heard.

Let's break it down with an example

I always give this example when trying to help people determine how much privilege they have within a space:

I'm disabled. I have a permanently immobile wrist due to a bone disease, and I have autism. While I'm a part of the disabled community, I don't feel that my voice should be the loudest within that space, or that I have a right to speak for everyone, because I recognize that I'm mostly able-bodied. The people who should have the most voice are the ones that are least represented. While I can totally add valuable insight to conversations in disabled spaces, I'm so careful not to speak for anyone else or be the loudest voice in that group.

Your voice is valuable

Your voice deserves to be heard. However, this doesn't mean that you should stomp all over minorities by speaking over them, or making broad, exclusionary statements about the community. Intersectionality is vitally important to the health and strength of any community. We need to hear from minority voices. We need to hear from underrepresented people.

Respect is the name of the game, and by checking our privilege within a space, and deferring to people with less privilege than us when appropriate, we can all make our communities more positive, healthy online spaces for everybody!

Who else has good, easily-understandable tips on how to check your privilege?

Join our community!

  1. Social Marxism? Why?

    There are actual problems to face in the world and much more productive uses of energy than everyone worrying about over exercising their talking "privilege."

    Anyhow, you should take this message to Berkeley and all the other leftist colleges, where they go so far as to engage in physical violence to prevent minority viewpoints from being heard.

    1 agrees
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  2. I like this very much and can identify with it. I have Interstitial Cystitis / Painful Bladder Syndrome. So I feel like I'm qualified for speak for that group of people in SOME general terms … but I'm also definitely not the MOST qualified. My case is very mild compared to many others who have it and I was only diagnosed 2 years ago so I really haven't been living with it for very long in the grand scheme of things.
    I think that's a good thing to keep in mind to keep privilege in check. Everyone's journey with any given thing (illness, disability, body positivity, etc) is different and falls somewhere along a spectrum. Whenever I speak about my IC/PBS I try to keep it in terms of "These are MY symptoms, these remedies help ME, this was MY path to diagnosis" because I certainly can't speak for everyone … nor would I want to!

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  3. I tried to remain calm while writing this response, but to be completely honest, the more I thought about it, the angrier I got. So I'm sorry if my experiences and feelings about them are offensive. There, I checked my privilege.

    Let's start by disclaiming that I am a white, cis, straight woman on the low end of the plus size spectrum. I also have genetically triggered Type 2 Diabetes and Hypertension, as well as menstrual migraines. So I've got lots of privilege, according to this piece, and according to every other liberal blog, instagram account, or other public forum/social media THING, which means any time I want to voice my experience or point of view, I basically get stamped on. I'm not plus enough. My illnesses aren't visible. I'm white & straight, so being an ally is being pretentious.

    So basically I never say anything, and I lurk on a lot of places. I just don't have the energy to do the mental gymnastics to argue over having a legitimate point of view when people on the extremes want to tell me how bad it "really" is. Every once in awhile I will defend plus brands for using size 16/18 models, because YES THEY ARE PLUS SIZED, but otherwise I generally say nothing. I shouldn't have to stay quiet for fear of being completely invalidated by people who are "more marginalized" than I am. So no, I'm not going to check my privilege, because all my "privilege" gets me is the idea that I should feel guilty for identifying with any of these groups, because I don't belong, according to to vocal people in them. The entire idea that a group of people can invalidate me for identifying with them, EVEN THOUGH I FIT THE PARAMETERS, is completely obnoxious.

    Do I have a legitimate voice in being an ally, even though I've never questioned that I'm straight/cis? I have LGBTQ family and friends that I love and support fully, and I want them to have the same benefits that I do. Can I be called plus sized? Well, I shop primarily at Torrid, a plus size shop, so you tell me. If they carry my size and call themselves a plus store, how can you tell me that I'm not plus? Can I be a valued voice in discussion of chronic illness? I mean, I struggle! Just because it's not visible, doesn't mean I don't know what it's like to have to decide between joining in on Happy Hour or seeming stuck up for being exhausted and having out of whack blood sugar on a business trip.

    No one should not have to check anything before saying, "This is My Experience, and I want to share." Obviously no one should speak for anyone else, but I don't think that has anything to do with perceived privilege. That has more to do with being a decent human and not being narcissistic.

    1 agrees

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