On having two identities and marginalization

“The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly. Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.” – Mark Zuckerberg

This is a line from an article written about the ways that Facebook is slowly and subtly destroying our free will. It’s very good and if you have time you should read it but I want to talk about this quote from Zuckerberg because it shows the mind of a person who has never had to hide parts of their identity just to exist safely in the world. This quote reeks of unexamined privilege and it is from one of the people who stands at the forefront of ushering the world into a new, connected age.

This is the statement of a person who has never had to pretend to be something they were not, something less than their whole selves in order to get and keep a job. This is a person who has never been afraid of the type of ridicule that could lead to violence for simply being 100% of who they were. This is the statement of a person who has never had to pretend to renounce their own identity in order to survive in the greater culture.

This is a statement of cis hetero white man. You don’t need to know that it was Mark Zuckerberg, Mr. Facebook himself, who said this to know that a white many said this. It is dripping with the privilege of safety and the knowledge that who you are in the world will always be accepted and treated with respect.

There’s nothing wrong with being a cis hetero white man but the world looks a lot different when you aren’t one. The difference in relationships between co-workers and other friends is, for him, the difference in wearing a tie or t-shirt to work. It is a surface difference. It is not the difference in appearing as a woman before your coworkers when they know you primarily as a man. It is not the difference of using your first initial only or going by your more ambiguous middle name so that people don’t realize that you’re a woman of color and reject your application outright.

White boy Mark has never had to do those things so he doesn’t understand how people who have had to do those things use his platform and perceive the future. It’s not a space where everyone is free to be who they are because all of these lines between people have been broken down.

Instead it is a place with less ways to form walls of protection. Although being online has allowed many people to find and build community, many marginalized groups have also become more open to abusive attacks from those that seek to continue to oppress and intimidate them. When Zuckerberg and other social media mavens speak of their imagined future, they focus on the first part because they have no real concept that the second issue is such a widespread concern for so many people.

In no statement has it been so blatantly clear that the creator of Facebook has limited understanding of the world outside of his own viewpoint then in that statement. When you exist at some intersection of marginalization, it doesn’t matter which one, you automatically must operate in much of the world as less of yourself, simply because the world was not built for you. If you want to survive, making concessions until you have the strength to fight the status quo.

That’s not what this quote is suggesting, that you fight. It is assuming that how you are will be fine for everyone you meet. That there is no reason to parse relationships between people, that everyone can be “friends” because in the homogeneous culture of Silicon Valley, this is possible. It is a utopia because it is built for and by group of people to support exactly who they are and what they want.

In that world, there are no reasons why anyone would need to present a different face to the world, we’re all just people right? But the world doesn’t see all people the same and everyone isn’t a friend, whether you’ve added them on Facebook or not.

The future can be a wonderful place to exist in. There are many exciting things happening in the realm of technology but while moving forward we must remember that those same biases that excited are still coming with us until they are dealt with. It’s not enough to say, everyone should just be excellent to one another (Rufus never showed up for anyone in this timeline), you must accept that people are still living under oppression and marginalization and that hiding is a survival mechanism.

Having two identities isn’t a lack of integrity. It’s a way to survive in a world that is often hostile to people who exist outside of the ideal of our society. Instead of fighting against an honest survival mechanism, why not call out the people who feel they have nothing to fear and use their social privilege to bully and harass people who are just trying to live?

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Unconscious Bias: Why You Need to Be Aware

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When people in a position of privilege, ie cis, White, male for example say that they have been judged for their cis/White/maleness they are mainly speaking of the times that someone has verbally or otherwise acted in a very overt negative fashion because of their cis/White/maleness. Which is to say that they know why it happened. What they are not speaking of is the unconscious bias that marginalized groups deal with constantly. Probably because that bias generally works out in their favor.

Unconscious bias is a bias that people are unaware of and stems from the person’s background or the culture they live in. For example, if you were nipped by a dog when you were young, you may grow up to not like dogs very much even if you never think of that incident at all.

Similarly, the culture we live in supports an unconscious bias that is favorable privileged groups (white, cis, male, etc) while it supports a negative unconscious bias for marginalized groups (people of color, females, queer, etc).

Hiring managers aren’t, for the most part, sitting at desks thinking, “No darkies in my office!” any more than doctors are thinking, “Man, women are just hypochondriacs!” However, both of these groups still deal with their unconscious bias that lay the groundwork for them to look more favorably upon white applicants or to take a woman’s health complaints less seriously.

This is important because when we talk about the act of judgement to be equally as awful, we’re very much speaking about those “vocal” judgements which is to say, we’re really saying, don’t say mean things to other people (which is a good life lesson). This reaction doesn’t deal with those unconscious biases and once you take that into consideration, the scales tip firmly in one direction as far as awfulness goes.

Dealing with unconscious bias is really difficult because there is no hard evidence for the times that it happens. As a woman of color, I can never be sure that I didn’t get a job because there was a better applicant or if it was because I was too brown. No one is going to tell me that they didn’t hire me because of my race or gender (we have laws against that) but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t factor in to their ultimate choice.

Solving this problem takes a lot of active thought. It forces people to look at why they’re making choices, acting in certain ways towards people etc. in order to be sure that they aren’t fueled by these biases. People will shout that they don’t hold biases but the thing is, the person may not be racist/sexist/homophobic but the culture that we all live in very much is and we are all influenced by it.

Defeating it means confronting it. If you come from a privileged group, it means questioning not only how you handle others but how you have been handled. It means questioning how you’ve benefited from these biases and how you may have caused harm with your own. Ignoring it will not make it go away because chances are, you’re not even aware of it.

You’re Not Oppressed, You’re Just Having A Bad Time

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Bad things can happen to anyone and it’s not OK. No one wants to be hurt, belittled, or insulted. It doesn’t feel good. However, if a bad thing happens to you and you happen to come from a privileged group, that doesn’t mean that you are oppressed. It just means that something bad happened to you.

Privilege in a social justice context does not mean that bad things don’t happen to you. It doesn’t mean that you will never feel sad or hurt or that someone will never act in violence against you. It just means that if/when these things happen it is not because of oppression. It’s because you had very bad luck.

It’s hard for people to understand that. When we engage in conversations regarding the ways oppression affects marginalized groups in specifically, for example, violence against female bodies, the privileged group feels left out and that their needs aren’t being met.

On the one hand they’re right because that particular discussion ISN’T about them but more importantly even if a man has experienced violence at the hands of a woman (which is a problem) that does not make it a cultural norm.

If you are skinny and can’t find clothes in a store that isn’t because skinny people have it just as bad as fat people.

If someone makes fun of you for being white that doesn’t mean you are a victim of racism.

Just because you are having a bad time does not mean you are a victim of systematic oppression.

Similarly, just because you are a member of the oppressed group and are having a good time at life it doesn’t mean that oppression isn’t real. If you are black and have never been called a nigger, it doesn’t mean racism is over.

If you are a woman who has never been paid less than a man that doesn’t mean sexism isn’t real.

If you’re fat and your wardrobe is awesome that doesn’t mean fat shaming isn’t real.

It just means that that person is having a good time. Their success does not mean that the greater group is no longer oppressed any more than a privileged person’s struggle mean that that group is suddenly oppressed.

On a micro, person to person level, we all have problems. Everyone has problems. But on a macro level, on a society level, these things play out differently. When we talk about privilege and oppression we’re talking about the macro level and how it effects our micro interactions.

So if you’re in an privileged group, the next time you see someone who is speaking from a place of marginalization and your reaction is to tell a story about something similar that happened to you, stop. Think about your experience. Before you open your mouth, question whether or not most people in your station, be it thin, male, white, educated, etc has had a similar experience.

If the answer is no, then you are not oppressed. You are just having a bad time. Don’t take up space with your story. Sit down, listen, and support.