Ramble: Check Your Privilege: Political Correctness Returns

Do you remember the Political Correctness fad of 1990s? Where language needed to be deconstructed and reconstructed to avoid hurting people’s feelings and protecting cherished sacred cows? Like all sociologically driven fads designed to bring about change it started from a sincere place in making people recognize that language shapes thinking, and personal biases are in turn reflected in the language we chose to use.

From its roots English is a Politically Incorrect language. The history of words capturing the essence of the patriarchal and xenophobic societies that contributed to the development of English. This is why the gender-neutral pronoun was “he/him/his.” Yes there is a real gender-neutral pronoun of “it”  – but that is also the pronoun for an animal, vegetable or mineral. We generally find that being referred to as “it” doesn’t really work. There is also the use of “one” as a pronoun, so that one might say “one can drive 10 miles and get to one’s house.” The use of “one” often simply creates an awkward sentence reeking of third person distance.

English historically tended to create categories of people by ending the name of the grouping with “man”. As in: human. From there we go quickly into fireman, policeman, postman, milkman, and of course “the man.” Overall that historical bias of English made the other half of “man” (also know as “woman”) feel rather excluded. So words began to evolve to reflect a new reality of gender-equity. We know have firefighters, police, postal workers, and no more milkmen of any kind. Some words are harder to evolve so we do still have humans and humanists. And we still have women (although it may now be spelled womyn).

That evolution of language stirred some waves, but it was when that evolution of language morphed into Political Correctness that things went over the top. Short people became “vertically challenged”; fat people became “plus-sized”; and Christmas became “happy holidays”. The reality is that English did need to evolve to make words more inclusive, and ultimately simply more accurate in usage. The backlash against “politically correct” language eventually turned the phrase “Politically Correct” or “PC” into a pejorative term.

So here we are and look PC is dead; long-live “Check your Privilege”.

Now in the normal sense of the word a Privilege is “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.” However, in this case “Check your Privilege” is all about an academic sociologically based reinvention of the word. Basically in this new context a “privilege” is to quote Wikipedia: “Privilege is the sociological concept that some groups of people have advantages relative to other groups. The term is commonly used in the context of social inequality, particularly with regards to race, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability and social class.[1] Specific elements of privilege may be financial or material such as access to housing, education, and jobs,[1] as well as others that are emotional or psychological, such as a sense of personal self-confidence and comfortableness, or having a sense of belonging or worth in society.[2] It began as an academic concept, but has since become popular outside of academia.[3]

This concept of “privilege” actually has a lovely earnest and hopeful framework holding it up. Unfortunately the original clarity of the concept has been hijacked so that “Check your Privilege” is now simply a quick slap to shut-down an opinion one may not want to hear. The original goal of making people aware of social and cultural privilege was to make individuals aware of societal inequities that may create barriers or exclusions for some groups that do not fit the “norm.”

The current use of the term has turned that around so that those labelled as being “privileged” have an unearned advantage that has been enshrined as a societal norm. The phrase “check your privilege” is then used as a warning bell that the speaker has no right to speak on a topic because the speaker is viewed has having no “real experience” and so is speaking from a blind-vantage of “privilege”. A quick interjection of “Check Your Privilege” is just a clever way to say “Shut Up!”

The beauty of this quick slap-down is it can be quickly wielded at any time by identifying an individual as being part of a pre-defined “elite” group that has unfettered access to “privilege”. The most used categories is north american culture are the privileged properties of being “white”, “male”, “able-bodied”, “attractive”, or “christian”. If you can be slotted into any of these categories then you are auto-magically privileged no matter your real life experience.  It does not matter that you may never have been treated as a “white” or a “christian” if by appearances you can be slotted into the category. Please note one cannot pick their own category – others must decide for you if your are “white”, “male” and so on. Your own personal life experience does not matter – only the external view of those that dis-like your opinions matter.

This of course makes the entire concept of social privilege suspect and distracts from the real disparities that do exist in our cultures and societies. Yes there really is sexism, and racism, and a host if other biased concepts and attitudes in our world. Attempting to shame people, or even to guilt individuals, because of a “perceived” membership in a societal group does nothing for the discussion, and simply makes individuals invisible. My experience of the world is not your statistical analysis of the world!

A normative value will always exist in the middle-ground of a society – meaning that there will always be those that exceed the norm and those that are below the norm. Yet all individuals will fall on different parts of different measurements! Meaning no one person is ever fully privileged by all a society has to offer.

This is why the cry of “Check your Privilege” – like the PC fad from before – has gone off the rails. It takes a good idea, and then goes OCD on the implementation. If you think you can tell me to “Check my Privilege” the reality is it is your own “holier then thou” sense of entitlement that needs to be checked. Go check yourself – but please not in public.


Ramble: The Straw-man of White Privilege

Lately I have been reading about this concept of “Check Your Privilege” and seeing things such as “If you don’t have to think about it, it is a privilege.”

Generally the concept of “Check Your Privilege” is aimed at those that are “White” and those that are “Male.” Because automagically “Whiteness” and “Maleness” confirms some mystical powers on those that are defined as “white” and “male”. And the elite are thus “white males.”

Now I do accept that bias and racism does exists. My difficulty is the concept of “white privilege” is basically a straw-man argument designed to distract from the reality of most peoples lived experience – no matter the color of their skin. A straw-man argument is one that exaggerates, misrepresents, or just completely fabricates the points so  it is  much easier to present another view as being more reasonable. However this is a form of intellectual dishonesty that serves to undermine honest rational debate on a topic.

Cheryl Harris describes whiteness as a form of property, which confers privileges on its holders. In “Whiteness as Property,” Harris writes, “The wages of whiteness are available to all whites, regardless of class position – even to those whites who are without power, money, or influence. Whiteness, the characteristic that distinguishes them from blacks, serves as compensation even to those who lack material wealth. It is the relative political advantages extended to whites, rather than actual economic gains, that are crucial to white workers.”
— Cheryl, Harris (1995), “Whiteness as Property”, in Crenshaw, Kimberlé, Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings that Formed the Movement, New York: The New Press, p. 286, ISBN 1-56584-271-5

While “white privilege” is an interesting academic thought exercise one aspect that is overlooked is that there are degrees of “whiteness”. Not all light skin people are treated as white and generally these light-tinted folks are given labels such as white trash, hillbillies, red-necks, and other descriptors meant to capture the low-status of these folks. Harris would seem to argue that anyone that can be classified as “light-skinned” is inherently blessed by the pinkish glow of their outer dermis.

The concept of “white privilege” imagines that north america society is a tiered cake arranged in discreet color layers starting with angel food-cake on the top and descending down into double dark-chocolate on the bottom. The societal reality is closer to it being a marble cake with swirls of white and dark mixed throughout the cake – and then topped with a creamy rich white icing on top. From the outside this marble-cake would seem to confirm that whiteness is indeed the key to success – when the reality is the white topping is more about the historical economic privilege of the elite European colonialists maintaining their economic head-start.

Yes the mixing of the marble is still uneven – so the cake is still darker on the bottom. However, more important than simply assigning “whiteness” is the understanding of the unbalancing impact of historical economic power that is still retained by a thin elite few. And yes they are mostly white. And mostly men. But their power actually flows from the control over things that are green and gold – economic clout to do as they please when they please. This is more about the eternal class disparity that has a historical white bias – and that economic power is a barrier that is harder to breakdown.


Ramble: Unfettered Librarians

Now I know what Audra really does for a living!


More Fear of Apples: Malusdomesticaphobia

Apples are an all-American success story-each ...

Every once in awhile I peruse my “Search Terms” list to see what people are actually randomly finding me. My number one search term is: Fear of Apples.

When I wrote my post on the “A Fear of Apples” I had no idea that it was an internet fascination. If you search for “Fear of Apples” I am actually number 5 on the search results with a link to http://merlinspielen.com/2013/02/18/a-fear-of-apples/

This is a point of pride, I am a front page search term. Okay so it isn’t thousands searching for Fear of Apples. Still I am surprised that it is now over 100 search results, and visits!

For those wondering there is an actual Fear of Apples Phobia it is called Malusdomesticaphobia, and it is the fear of all apples and can also be used when describing the fear of eating apples.


A Fear of Apples

Apples are an all-American success story-each ...

The internet is awesome for one thing: random browsing of random things. This concept of random browsing is why I love libraries and bookstores. You wander down a stack of organized knowledge and reach up to pull out someone else’s thoughts. Sometimes those thoughts are incredibly boring. Mostly those thoughts are incredibly stimulating and intriguing.

I do realize that vast and unnumbered hours of my life have been devoted to being a written-word voyeur. Staring at glorious white pages stamped with black letters organized into a (mostly) coherent stream from the inside of someone else’s brain. It is intensely magical. The written word is as close to telepathy as we have ever managed to get. But I digress from my chosen topic of the day.

In my random browsing today, I came across this story called The Fear of Apples by Marta Pelrine-Bacon. This short-story is an enjoyable modern spin on the “bad” apples often found in fairy tales. It also reminded me of my own fear of apples. Not a true phobic-fear as told in the short story – but still a fear.

I do remember eating raw apples when I was really young. The taste of apples is connected with happy late-summer days out in the country-side. The smell of apples usually takes me back to memories of wandering open fields and climbing apple trees. Memories of crab-apples stockpiled and ready for the ‘Apple Wars’ that my brothers and I would have in the hedges and ditches around the old farm.

My fear of apples began when I was 6-years-old. It was mid-September. Bright sunny, the warmth of the morning tinged with fresh smells of autumn building on the wind. Sumac on the edge of turning into blazing red markers. The buzz of bees and wasps madly looking for the last sweet taste of summer before frost ended their frenzy.

Tractor diesel smells puffed past us in random clouds of black smoke tickling our noses with petrochemical dust. Us boys clung hard to the sides of the hay-wagon as it bounced across the alfalfa fields, past the leaning stacks of bales, over the hand-made railroad-tie bridge my father had built that summer, and into the remains of the abandoned farm next door. That parcel of land was almost 200-acres of open fields, woodlots, fence-rows and ponds. Mostly, it was a Mother Nature re-naturalization project well on its way back to a wild state.

Beside being a wonderful playground for the imagination of boys, it was a free pick your own fruit paradise. In the spring the sweetest wild strawberries covered the sandy grounds where the old barn had once stood. We would pick wild strawberries by the hat-full, usually eating one for every berry saved for Mother’s jam making. Old currant and gooseberry bushes marked the edge of what had been the vegetable garden. Elderberry bushes marked where the old driveway led back to the gravel concession road.

Wild fruit grew all along the fence rows. There were raspberries and blackberries in patches so needle-sharp and thick we would wear our old winter coats to push into the middle and find every sweet fruit. Also all along those fence rows were fruit trees – bountiful with apples and pears and old-fashioned plums. The carefully nurtured delights of an abandoned dream, now all ours for the picking.

On that particular early autumn day we were heading to pick the apple harvest. Some I now recognize as Northern Spy, Macintosh, and Orange Pippin apples. Then there were these delightful golden yellow eating apples which I have never seen since – their flesh soft and sweet and quick to bruise. And various trees with hard green winter apples that made the best pies and apple sauce you could ever desire.

The smell of apples that day was overwhelming. The fruit ripe and ready to fall to the ground. My task, being the little brother, was to scavenge the ground for freshly fallen fruit. Apples that appeared unblemished and firm went into one bushel for storage in the cold cellar. Apples that had minor blemishes went into another bushel for immediate use as apple-sauce and apple-cider. Finally, apples that were well beyond hope went into the throw at my brothers pile.

My brothers and father were up the tree with sacks picking the best fruit from the trees. Of course my brothers were throwing the poorer fruit in my direction – hence my need for the piles of throwing apples. The battle of throwing rotten fruit adding an additional danger level since rotting autumn apples attract wasps to the splatter.

I don’t remember how many bushels we picked – I just know it didn’t take long. We headed out mid-morning when the sun had dried the autumn dew, and headed back home for lunch with more bushels than I could count. Or more likely – cared to count!

As we clung to the side-rails of wagon, I reached down into a bushel and picked out a promising green and red apple that seemed healthy and unblemished. It’s skin gleaming in the noon sun. I did the check for holes that indicated maggots or worms, and finding none, then bit into the firm flesh.

This was an apple with a hard gritty crunch and a sharp acid taste. The feel of my teeth sinking into the flesh was like hard nails on a chalkboard. It sent a chill of goosebumps on goosebumps up and down my spine. The flavour was intensely unpleasant to my child taste-buds. And then there inside the promising white flesh, was the blackened oozing trail of worms feasting on the seeds and inner core. The eggs having been laid in the bottom were the flower had once bloomed – and so hiding their wriggling doorway into the apple.

The combination of texture, sound, taste and the graphic visual of the wriggling mass of worms made me retch. I threw that apple into the bushes passing by, and spat out the vile fruit that was in my mouth. My brothers found this all very entertaining, and started helpfully offering fruit from the “use now” bushels with obvious blemishes and possible worms inside. I have never eaten a raw apple since that day. Ick.

My reaction to fresh apples was so strong I could not even peel or cut apples for many many years. The smallest sound of a knife slicing through firm apples will bring back the intensity of that moment. Even hearing someone delightful crunching down on a crisp fresh apple would send chills down my spine and raise the hairs on my arms.

Many years ago I had agreed to give a young lady a lift to another city, when my lovely passenger started eating a crunchy apple. I actually had to pull over and make her eat the apple outside the car – it was causing me that much distraction. She was very annoyed by my reaction and chewed her apple all the louder telling me how delightful it was to eat. She never did call me again – and that was fine by me!

I never had any problems eating cooked apples. Apple-pie. Apple-sauce. Apple-juice and cider. Baked Apples are a delicious weakness. I even cook with apples now – but the process is one of personal torture. Every cut, every peel, every moment of handling the raw flesh of apples heightening my senses and putting me on edge. Do not try and joke with me while I am preparing apples for an apple pie – it may take a tragic turn!

A slight irony is that I do apparently make a wonderful apple-pie, and the apple-sauce I make is also well above average. This means that I will get requests for making apple-pie and apple-sauce from people that have tasted my culinary efforts with apples.

Strange how one small moment in a combination of events can leave such a deep and lasting impression that it shapes the other moments in our lives. No matter how logical or rational we might be in the other aspects of our life – we all are shaped by moments of small consequences that leave indelible marks in their wake.

Yet, I must note that if I ever do make you an apple pie – or anything that involves preparing fresh raw apples – I must really like you. It takes an incredible effort on my part to start peeling that first apple, and I only get through it by thinking how much you are going to enjoy the end result!


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