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The Place of the Privileged

November 18, 2009


Hello, readers!  I’m new here, so I thought I’d start with an introduction.  My name is Sam, I’m 100% stoked to be writing for GAB, and I am incredibly privileged.  Yes, I’m going to admit it up front, because it’s entirely relevant to the scope of this blog.  And because I’m relatively invisible to all of you, more of a collection of words and ideas than a person, it’s important that you, the reader, understand where I come from.

I am light-skinned, young, and male.  While my sexual preference does not preclude the possibility of any particular pairing, I have only dated women.  Thus, in the matrix of oppressions, I am generally part of the caste of oppressors, and hardly, if ever, oppressed.  In a funny way, that information has the possibility of marginalizing me in this community, and that’s OK.

But what place do “people like me” have in writing for a “blog like this”?  I’ve really never experienced oppression , and thus, it’s pretty difficult for me to identify fully with what it means to have any number of traits that are excluded by our society by various “isms”.  Some “people like me” have stated that empathy and sympathy are just as good as experience, but I beg to differ. 

While there is some evidence that empathic pain and suffering does exist neurologically, it is quite clear that skipping the actual trauma of being discriminated against leads to a more transient, shallower experience of the situation.  In fact, this difference is significant enough that those individuals involved in activism almost always tend to be from the group they are representing.

Actually, I can relate in a very small way:  I was raised Jewish in a small town in Virginia where “Christian” meant Protestant and you could count the number of non-Christians in school on two hands.  I was routinely pulled out of class by my mother for religious holidays which led to me receiving detentions for too many absences.  My teachers, while sympathetic, did not really understand WHY I had to be gone those days (granted, I wondered as well), and I was generally typecast as a “troublemaker” by the administration.  These well-wishers were certainly allies in fulfilling my desire to learn and limiting the impact that continued absence had on me, but they never identified enough with my situation to help find a solution.

Although this is a minor example, the point is that the typical “ally“, exists more to provide emotional and organizational support rather than any real action to further a cause.  And, as such, we on the outside tread a very fine line.  On one hand, we risk being ostracized by a society we disagree with, and on the other we risk impersonating or appropriating the very real struggle of many marginalized individuals (a very minor issue compared to the actual fight going on every day around the world, to be sure).  However, it’s absolutely essential that the non-marginalized join the fight.  Without widespread societal support for a cause there is no hope for changing social norms.

And thus we return to the initial question:  What place can I and others like me — concerned individuals without any real experience of oppression–play in the fight for equality? Perhaps it will require applying relevant lessons from smaller conflicts to a larger context, as above.  Some may reply with “you can’t live in a house made of good intentions,” and I would have to agree–but I am here to contribute, not to whisper sweet nothings into the ears of the sympathetic.  How can I be effective?  I can’t answer for any of you, but I can give you my own rather trite answer.  I’m here to help spread information, positive thoughts, and equality, and through this, hopefully open or soften the minds of others to the cause. Will you have me?

Sam Gimbel writes from Brooklyn, NY.  A recent college graduate, he pays the bills by working in scientific publishing.  He loves music, feminism, and the outdoors.  He thrives on the beauty of so many people in such a small place and the random acts of kindness he witnesses every day.

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