Examining Privilege as One of the Worst Offenders

By Emily Ann Smith

One of my most moving experiences occurred in train a station in Xi’an, China , 2010. Xi’an, for those of you not familiar with the city, is the ancient capital of China and resting place of the Terracotta warriors.

I sat in the train station with a busload of students from my high school who were abroad in China for the summer. Alongside us were maybe a thousand Chinese – many of whom were migrant laborers returning home to the countryside. We sat in strong contrast to the migrants.

(If your interesting in reading more about migrant laborers in China)

We were similar in our metropolitan exodus, both clenching large handfuls of possessions and porting gifts for loved ones back home. Our differences, more starkly defined by cushy American upbringings and favoritism from station officials.

From Wikihow: How to Safely Travel in China by Train

As the boarding signal lit, everyone in the enormous terminal simultaneously lurched towards the exit gate. Upon seeing a gaggle of American tourists, the gate officials quickly made it clear that no one would pass until the Americans cleared gate. Just like that, we walked passed hundreds of Chinese, exuding western privilege, given better treatment than the people who live there.

Seeing this treatment happen again and again made me reflect. how could I ignore it? When disparity is so clear, it is impossible to look past. But when a disparity in privilege is more obscure or hard to rationalize, we have an easier time accepting it.

This is why I want to examine my privilege, for I am subject to immense privilege.

Born a White upper-middle class male, life afforded me immeasurable rights. life gave me Economic benefits like expensive education, general welfare and also difficult to quantify social benefits.

A year ago, a friend asked that I accompany him shopping. He required another set of eyes and considered me fashionable enough for the job. I more than knew my way around a department store. We first visited Nordstrom to find a pair of shoes. It requires noting that my friend immigrated from China and has called New York home for over a decade.

On his own, it took him ten minutes to flag down a salesman to ask about trying on a pair of boat shoes. After bringing him the pair, the salesman again disappeared and turned his attention to a Waspy couple. It saddened me to see my friend snubbed. He did end up buying the shoes and we assured the cashier that no one had helped him.

When we went to Brooks Brothers we hoped we wouldn’t experience the same attitude. I knew the sales clerk working had no problem with young people because he appeared at my beck and call every time I  had previously visited. but again, we were disappointed. Again, It proved harder for him to flag down the clerks attention. He was told things were “over there” or “by that” rather than being delicately led through the displays.

We got to the point were I would flag down salespeople and tell them what he was looking for because it seemed to move things along better. Was that because I’m tall, was well dressed, and confident, rather than my race? The truth, I feel is both played a role.  I was always confident I would receive help because I’d come to expect it.

(See: Barney’s New York Scandal – Shopping while black)

This instance again made me sit back and look at my social privilege.

But the biggest change in privilege I’ve noticed,  is the loss of my male privilege by transitioning.

I now notice different treatment from many friends and acquaintances. My infallibility, less expected, my opinion, less sought. I am not an expect on fields no longer deemed within my domain. I always knew that sexism existed, but never dreamed of its prevalence.

Always Remember…

for some people, “you’re a woman!” can discredit my argument quicker than any rational assertion.

I’m “emotional” or “crazy.”

Incapable, because I’ve been dulled by estrogen.

Its usually more subtle, but the implications and double standards are often there.

and yet, I’m still immensely privileged. I’m still white, I’m young, thin, educated – but also worried.

It is already harder for me to be taken seriously in a job with only male co-workers.

I’m worried that I will be less likely to be promoted if I’m not attractive and thought of as undeserving  if I am.

I carefully pick my walking routes, always mindful of dark secluded areas.

This has all been strange for me. A year ago I would not have considered myself a feminist, not only because inequality escaped my eyes, but also because the negative tone with which  feminism was introduced to me.

Transition has proven to be, well transformative. That’s why I am often disillusioned by out tendency to focus on the external changes. The internal transformation, the emotional challenge, leaves an impact that forever defines our worldview. That is part of why being transgender is a large part of who I am.

Luckily, I have had the privilege of seeing that.

For arguments sake and to feel fair I will link this. Comments welcome as always. Am I a terrible person who has it all wrong? tell me.


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