White Privilege: What does it mean?

A regular pass-time of my generation is the use of social media. Everyone knows about it, everyone uses it, and if you don’t, there’s usually a pretentious reason why. In my case, I just didn’t quite get it (for ages I thought ‘Instagram’ was called ‘Instantgram’). But whether it’s Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, young people are harnessing Internet tools for their own advantages. From indulging in and exploring deep-rooted issues of narcissism and self-validation (sometimes I get shivers when I get over fifty ‘likes’) to helping spread the word on good causes or keeping in touch with family members abroad, social media has become the pinnacle of modern communication.

As I regularly scroll through my Facebook newsfeed, constantly refreshing the page in the hopes that a hilarious vine or heart-warming Buzzfeed article will release me from my self-inflicted shackles of apathy, I recently came across a status that really hit a nerve. Someone had posted recalling an experience wherein they felt that they had been a victim of racial discrimination, but had been told that they could not experience racism because they were white. I found this interesting and confusing, so I went on to read the comments, all written by white people who claimed they too had experienced racial discrimination or felt that they were lacking rights or privileges that others had due to their white skin. As I attempted to choke down a combination of laughter and alarm, I realized that these people were being serious. They then began discussing the phrase ‘stupid white people’ and came to the conclusion that the words ‘white’ and ‘privileged’ are often interchangeable.

This made me think of the concept of ‘white privilege’ and whether or not this term is still relevant for use today. The term is derived from the reality that white people experience advantages or better treatment than those who are not white under the same social, political and environmental circumstances. You can argue that being born with white skin does not make you immune to poverty, abuse, or any other kind of hardship. But what people forget, particularly white people who claim they are hard done by, is that being born with white skin means that your entire life will float happily on the surface of society’s intrinsic racist values and you will constantly benefit from these values, while those who are not white will tread water beneath you or drown completely in a wave of Nigel Farage’s bodily fluids.

I find it unfathomable that a young white male could confuse general abuse for racial abuse. Despite the fact that he claimed he had been called a ‘white honkey bastard’ the reason why he was being abused was likely not because he was white, but for another reason altogether. I’m not denying that the abuse he experienced was wholly unjust. I’m also not saying that being called a ‘white honkey bastard’ is acceptable, but claiming that it was solely a racial issue is absurd and offensive to those who endure racial abuse or discrimination on a daily basis. I think if I were a white male like him (the most respected kind of human on the planet) I would not complain about that one time I was called a ‘white honkey bastard’ when I will never have a problem getting a job, will be deemed ‘mentally unwell’ as opposed to ‘terrorist’ if I gun down a group of school children or will never be murdered by policemen because of the colour of my skin.

Whatever race you happen to be, we should all openly discuss our struggles, or in some cases, a lack there of. I think the most important thing we can do as a society is educate. If you are white, learn to recognize the benefits you reap from being white, and do everything you can to help emancipate those who experience oppression because of society’s institutionalized racism and discrimination.

So next time you’re taking a selfie or tweeting to Taylor Swift, remember that your social media presence has value and that it gives you a voice. By using it to stand up to racial injustice we can help in the fight for real change. And who knows, maybe one day the term ‘white privilege’ will become redundant, or maybe it won’t. Or maybe it will.

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Gender Identity: a concept or a construct?

One of my favourite pass-times nowadays is to play with my boyfriend’s beard; usually when contemplating some kind of Camus-like existential crisis – it helps me feel at one with my primitive self. As someone who was born anatomically female, I find it difficult to grow a beard of my own to aid me with my ponderings of the universe, unless you count a teasing shadow of a Frida Khalo-esque moustache, which, frankly, fails to live up to the job. Beards are everywhere now. In the street, on Bill the hobo’s face as well as Danny’s, the budding graphic design student. The ‘lumbersexual’ trend has traversed boundaries of masculinity and resulted in a fashion phenomenon for men of all ages and backgrounds. It is the done thing.

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The bearded one can woo their lady or guy with this beacon of masculinity, and the bigger the better. If it looks like an alpha badger has made a home on your face then you have succeeded. But does this hyper-masculine trend fail to understand the complexities of our relationship with our gender and how it is perceived? Is this trend damaging for boys and men? Or is it in fact a liberating sign of progression when it comes to breaking the boundaries of the clean-shaven black-tied ken doll?

The ‘lumbersexual’ is a heavily bearded male, usually white and heterosexual. He’s a plaid wearing MacBook owner who likes craft beer and artisan coffee. He looks like he should be in a forest covered in sweat and sniffing a pine tree. The reality is the only thing that makes him sweat is running out of patchouli beard oil when he only has the hemp stuff left. This hairy primal look brings men back to their most natural selves, save for a bit of sculpting here and there. It can provide an alternative existence; acting as a rebellion against the suited-up corporate industry (although it can be argued that it is a fashion trend and therefore complying with the system – plus Sikh men have been bearded heroes for years and haven’t got any credit). On the other hand, some men like to grow a beard because they think it suits them and they can’t be arsed shaving and so for them it is fashion-convenient. This is all very well. But as the beard is the main attribute of the ‘lumbersexual’, men who do not have the ability to grow a beard may feel like they are not ‘real’ men. In the same way as lean fashion models are told by bitter women in the media they are not ‘real’ women because they do not have ‘curves’, the modern man could be emasculated by society for his lack of facial hair. This can be destructive for men and boys as if they do not reflect the image of the ‘ideal’ man they will thus be less attractive to a potential mate. Therefore, the hyper-masculine age has forced us all to reflect upon what it means to be a ‘man’ and what it means to be a ‘woman’ and if we are comfortable with the expectations assigned to our gender and why it is becoming important that we should question them.

Despite the fact that it does seem to be apparent that our gender roles are (even though they can change and evolve) dictated mainly by the media and the fashion industry, it is reassuring that it is becoming more and more commonly accepted that our gender may not correlate with our sex. The courage of transgender people has helped us shift our perspective on the ways that we are conditioned to think about the relationship between our gender and our sex.There are many public figures who are transgender and contributing to this societal change of perspective such as Laverne Cox, an LGBT advocate most known for her role in hit series ‘Orange is the New Black’. There are countless successful transgender people who are becoming role models for young people everywhere. Recently it has become fashionable for menswear to be worn by women, demonstrated by lines in high street stores such as Urban Outfitters. Models such as Ruby Rose and Erika Linder, the first female to be on the men’s board in 2011 and model for both men and women’s fashion, are also pioneers of this movement, this crucial shift in perspective.

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These women continually push the boundaries of gender perception and celebrate androgyny. Blurring the lines between gender roles allows us to make a decision as to whether our gender should be a main factor in determining our identity.

So next time someone tells you you’re not ‘manly’ enough to grow a beard, or criticises you for studying electrical engineering because you’re a woman and it’s a ‘man’s trade’, or ridicules you because they can not put you into a box or mould you into the shape of their backward ‘normality’, tell them that for you the box doesn’t exist, and it never has. That you are you and that is beautiful, and that is enough. And if that doesn’t work then a simple ‘go fuck yourself’ also does the trick.

Sia’s ‘Elastic Heart’: Why you guys are perverts

Sunday Afternoon Shower-Reflection (SASR) is a technical term for the time we spend contemplating our shitty lives in the shower. More often that not we’re hungover, and so we don’t care that we’re accelerating our already massive electricity bill just to stand motionless, naked and (mostly) alone, like a spare prick under a fountain of shame. We find this activity soothing, and definitely more fun than eating the rest of the cold Dominoes in the kitchen that was already making us feel a bit sick. During this half meditative half depressed state, it’s easy for our minds to drift to off to places we don’t want to go. We worry about work, about money, about relationships, about drinking a shot out of our cousin’s bellybutton the night before and realizing that was so wrong in so many ways.

When we think of some of the worst things imaginable committed by humanity we think of murder, rape, pedophilia, war. We feel grateful for the things we have but also guilty for the things we aren’t doing that could help others. We might listen to some music and howl along half-heartedly. My favourite song at the moment is Sia’s ‘Elastic Heart’. Sometimes I like to pretend that I’m the little feral dancing kid in her videos, until I get scared about how exhilarating it feels to hiss at the postman. This is why the recent controversy surrounding this new video has come to my attention. People are saying things like ‘woah Sia, you’re pure like, lovin’ the paedos aye’. Being a creative person myself and loving all things pretentious and arty, this kind of ignorance astounds me. Amoungst other things this video is expressive, beautiful, at times harrowing and for me exemplifies the most acute pains we experience as mere humans, such as mental illness. Both Shia and Maddie’s performances are exquisite. Through contemporary dance they portray human struggles. With reference to the allegations of those offended by the video claiming that it promotes or trivializes paedophilia, there is no inappropriate sexual touching between the performers, what they are conveying is symbolic and poignant, they are dancing – it is art. Why does everything nowadays have to be so aggressively and sexually perverse for us to pay attention to it? Just so people can have someone else to blame for the projection of their own sick thoughts?

Recently, I have been reading Lena Dunham’s new book ‘Not that kind of Girl’ and, similarly to the controversy surrounding Sia’s ‘Elastic Heart’ video, some people made claims that she sexually assaulted her sister in a chapter where she talks about being fascinated with her vagina and as a small child curiously looks at her sister’s, probably to reassure herself that hers is normal and nothing sadistic is going to crawl out and maul her in her sleep. To me, it’s interesting that these accusations are coming from men – clearly there is some kind of agenda behind them. Perhaps they read it and became aroused and thus horrified at said arousal and blamed Lena for sharing her innocent child-like experience with the world because it made them feel that way and wanted to shout ‘Lena’s a massive perv! She wants to finger blast her sister!’ just to cover up their own perverted inclinations.

I would love to live in a world where art could be appreciated for what it is, where people were open-minded and less ignorant about things they don’t yet understand. It is unfair that Sia was made to apologise for the video, one should never have to apologise for talent and for art…unless of course your art consists of porking a minor then that’s just not cool. So next time you’re in the shower and find yourself reflecting on the problems in the world, remember what Scroobius Pip said: ‘Thou shalt not think any male over the age of 30 that plays with a child that is not their own is a paedophile. Some people are just nice.’