An analysis of privilege

I am still left utterly speechless after viewing the Button Poetry clip of Crystal Valentine’s spoken word piece, “Black Privilege” last Wednesday. I returned to the video later that night and have since watched at least 5 times. Each time, I am in awe of Valentine’s ability to evoke such raw emotion from the audience (or the online viewer, such as myself) through the force of the spoken word.

The video “Black Privilege” was a curious choice to follow the reading “Waking Up to Privilege” by Stephanie A. Shields. In contrast to Valentine, Shields offers a different perspective on understanding privilege as a white woman in “Waking Up to Privilege”. While I appreciated her analysis of intersectionality, I couldn’t help but feel frustrated by her interpretation of privilege, or “opportunity” as she calls it in her essay. As indicated in the title, Shields recounts moments throughout her life when she became acutely of her privilege. For example, she recalls how fortunate she felt about receiving a scholarship for college. She then goes on to explain how the education system was structured with the aim to aid women, but not necessarily women of color in California. Shields describes these realizations as moments of “discovery” on her path to understanding her unearned privilege (35).

Now, I’m sure that Shields intends to address her moments of clarity in an honest and academic manner. However, her analysis of privilege comes off as (for lack of a better word) privileged!! Her ignorance becomes particularly salient when she writes about how “one of the most energy draining things about being on the margins is the constant requirement to justify your existence” (34). While she does acknowledge that “other contributors to the volume [Presumed Incompetent] know better than [she] does” on the matter, she then follows her bold statement with a story about fighting for tenure as one of a few women professors in her field. I have no doubt that this must have been an huge and discouraging obstacle for her. However, Shields drew an unfair comparison between being recognized by the Academy and a question of self-worth that eats away at so many women of color.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh in my critique of Shield’s paper on privilege. If this is the case, please let me know. That said, I’m curious to hear your thoughts about both pieces: the video and essay. I think there is a lot to be learned from each work.

2 thoughts on “An analysis of privilege

  1. Shields reminds me of the white women Kupenda had to deal with in Facing down the spooks. “We want your support on gender equity issues but when it comes to race you are on your own.” That sentiment seemed to be an undercurrent in Shields. She seemed especially defensive at the end of the article when she said that her reaction to women of color who correct her when she generalizes (“you mean white women, right?”) is to want to shout at them “You don’t know me.” That’s privilege.

    Actually I meant for us to watch “Black Privilege” (Crystal Valentine) during the first class so it would be followed by the Shields piece–but you are right I did intend for you to get the contrast. I like how it worked out being shown with “A Place of Rage.” I thought they complemented each other well. What do you think?


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