Opinion

A response to “victim privilege:” It doesn’t exist

Before I respond to Ted Bebi’s offensive, ignorant and frankly embarrassing article, I would like to credit The Mac Weekly for publishing his piece and opening up a space for discussion, as uncomfortable as it may be. So, where to begin?

Victim privilege does not exist. The idea of victim privilege, like that of reverse racism, isn’t real. Victim privilege is a pseudo-concept most often espoused by the kind of people who hashtag #AllLivesMatter, people who are uncomfortable with the words and voices of marginalized people. Their cries of victim privilege co-opts real struggles in an attempt to legitimize a dislike of their implicit, personal participation in an oppressive system of power.

Victim privilege, as Bebi describes, is also based in a fundamental misunderstanding of what privilege is and how it functions. Privilege isn’t just getting chances others do not. Privilege is benefitting from being a part of a dominant group in a system of inequality, and inherently involves the oppression of non-dominant groups. To quote Dr. Peggy McIntosh, “Privilege exists when one group has something of value that is denied to others simply because of the groups they belong to, rather than because of anything they’ve done or failed to do.”

A position of privilege is more desirable than a position of victimization, as no one wants to be the subject of an oppressive system. No one asks to be a victim.

With the understanding that victim privilege is in and of itself a contradictory term, I would like to move onto the fact that Bebi felt the need to write an op-ed about it. His criticism of how someone expresses their lived experience and dismissing their voice contradicts Bebi’s statement that he opposes “any form of discrimination” and “believes in equality.” It is not the responsibility of marginalized individuals to make their “apparent struggle” educational and palatable for consumption. The fact that Bebi found it “hard to sympathize” with his friend is not their problem; it is his and his alone. Maybe the fact that Bebi was “one of the few people that felt that way” is a sign he was wrong, not being oppressed by so-called victim privilege and the lack of likes on a Facebook photo.

As Bebi states, he imagined what would happen if a “white, straight, blonde, blue-eyed guy…[said] equivalently the same thing.” The fact is, the man described by Bebi would not be saying “equivalently the same thing” because he is not a marginalized individual. He is practically the prancing mascot of privilege.

Bebi also expresses frustration with the degree of respect given “exclusively because you have faced marginalization.” And they have been given that degree of respect, and it is well-deserved because they have faced a system constructed on the constant oppression of people that they have survived and that alone makes their existence radical.

What Bebi perceives as his own position of victimization in no way makes his disapproval and dismissal of victims acceptable. If anything, it should lead him to be more receptive and empathetic to the experiences of others. I urge Bebi, as well as anyone reading this article, to examine their relationship with privilege and with the voices of marginalized people. Before we allow ourselves to turn off and to feel alienated by the power of someone’s experience, we should take a moment to listen to what they are saying and acknowledge their words and their existence.

April 17, 2015

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