Friday, June 12, 2009

Culture and privilege (by Suzie)

        A lot of interesting comments were made on an earlier thread about bullfighting, and I encourage you to go back and read it if you’re interested in the concept of privilege. One suggestion was that someone who is not part of a culture should take care to discuss it in the terms preferred by people who live in that culture.
        I have mixed feelings. I understand that people are more likely to listen to me if I speak their language. If I’m talking to a woman who has no problem with “female circumcision,” for example, I may offend her by calling it “female genital mutilation.” On the other hand, calling it “female circumcision” may encourage an inaccurate comparison to male circumcision, both in the effects and the reasons for the procedures.
        A couple of readers suggested that an outsider who refused to use terms commonly employed in their culture was exercising his own cultural privilege. But I don’t see how that jibes with the definition of privilege from critical race theory.
        Is this a way of saying: Because you don’t live here, you have the privilege of not needing to understand my culture? If someone in Brazil used her own terms to critique something in Mexico, would she be exercising Brazilian privilege? Or, does it only apply if one culture has advantages, or is widely perceived to have advantages, over another?
        A reader who accused the writer of privilege called this an Anglo-American blog, perhaps because it is an English-language blog in the U.S. or because Echidne is a non-Hispanic white who lives in America. Echidne is Finnish, and I don’t know how she feels about the word “Anglo,” but I dislike it because I know of no English ancestors, and my mother’s mother was staunchly Irish. I feel like others outside of Irish culture have imposed “Anglo” on us with no concern for our colonial history.
         The reader suggested Northern Europeans have privilege over Southern Europeans. That makes me wonder how we judge privilege in this case. If we judge privilege by per-capita income, Northern Europe does win out.
         Sometimes people recount history when talking about privilege, noting how one group colonized and/or enslaved another. In European history, however, people in the South (i.e., Romans) conquered people in the North. Greece, Spain and Portugal also established dominion over other lands.
        Perhaps cultural privilege relates to stereotypes used against Southern Europeans. But it's not like Northern Europeans aren't stereotyped as well. Think of the stereotype of the feisty Irish redhead.
        I'm interested in your thoughts, as this series on privilege continues.