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.

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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!


Orange Cranberry Drop Cookies

2/3 cup butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
2 tablespoons frozen orange juice
1/3 cup milk
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup chopped pecans
2-1/2 cups dried cranberries coarsely chopped
OPTIONAL: Add some orange zest to give tangy orange flavor.

Preheat oven to 375 F.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Beat together butter and sugars until creamy.
Stir in milk, orange juice and egg.
Mix in dry ingredients until well blended
Stir in nuts and cranberries.
If the cookie dough seems too dry add a couple of teaspoons of water – this may vary depending on the moisture in the “dried cranberries.”

Drop dough by tablespoons about 2″ apart on prepared baking sheet.
Bake 10-15 minutes. Allow to cool for 2 minutes on baking sheet, then remove to wire cooling racks to cool completely.


The Acid/Alkaline Food Myth.

I love food. I love the smell, the look, and most of all the eating! Perhaps even a little too much on the eating side. I also like to read about the science of food, and the science of digestion and metabolism.

We humans are basically a biological amalgamation of complex chemical processes that  let us do some really amazing things! Our cells are tiny factories that not only perform essential life processes – they can also manufacture their own replacements!

Different cells in our bodies are renewed at different rates. The cells in your lungs are replaced every 6-weeks, your taste-buds are renewed every 10-days. The cells in your bones average 10-years. Many of the cells in our bodies are less than 12 years old! Some cells – such as brain cells – are never renewed. And others such as the cells in our hearts are renewed very slowly.

This renewal process is what keeps us healthy and vigorous – and as long as the replication process does not have errors we will continue to thrive. When cells develop errors this can lead to a health crisis. The most common type of “cell error” is called cancer.

Now there are many theories on what causes cancer, and how cancer can be controlled, even repaired. And since we are bio-chemical factories driven by what we intake (food, water, air and god-knows what else!) – it makes sense what we eat and when we eat might be part of the solution (or problem)!

So we have theories of anti-oxidants, and flavonoids, and mega-dosing of this and that, and micro-dosing of other things. It is quite the mystical intra-relationship of  fact, fancy, and wishful-thinking. And of course there is also that other complicating factor of mind over matter – and how what we believe can actually change us! Placebo effect anyone?

So it is with interest that I have been reading the theories of acid-forming vs alkaline-forming foods, and the health impacts of these food groups. Basically, the theory propounds that eating certain foods will change our body pH levels. Acid-forming foods will increase our body acidity. Alkaline-forming foods will increase our body alkalinity.  And we need to remember that “acidity is bad” and “alkalinity is good”.

Now acid-forming and alkaline-forming is not the same as a food that is acidic or alkaline before it is consumed. This is because the digestion process breaks the food down into various chemical bits and bites – and those in turn may be utilized in other chemical reactions.

It would then seem to be common sense that food would impact our body acidity and alkalinity. Except it turns out that isn’t how our metabolic processes work. There is actually a very limited pH range within our bodies – and our bodies respond quickly to maintain the optimal pH balance. Basically our internal pH is maintained between 7.35 and 7.45 on the pH scale. In other words we are slightly alkaline. Or, as I like to think of it, we are all mildly base creatures on the inside.

The acidity-alkalinity concept also takes a knock when we stop and think about the actual digestion process. We eat food and it drops into our stomach where the food is broken down by a very powerful gastric acid bath (including natural hydrochloric acid). The acid your stomach will dissolve zinc. The pH level of gastric acid is 1.5 to 3.5 on the pH scale.

Some of the acid is neutralized by reacting with the food, and any remaining acidity is countered in the duodenum by a neutralization process that basically dumps sodium bicarbonate when high acid levels are detected. The gastric acid is basically converted into salt, carbon dioxide and water. As the digestion process moves down the intestines – the pH level climbs back to about 8.0.

I won’t get into the full details of absorption of nutrients – but basically the nutrients from the food are broken down into rather basic forms that our body can  absorb. This is an important part of how we maintain our bodies – as not everything can be digested and absorbed. What we do absorb has to be broken down and presented in a form that can cross through the intestines into our blood stream for transport where it is needed in our bodies. What this means is we do not absorb a steak – we absorb the nutrients that make up that steak. What cannot be absorbed is discarded as waste.

Basically the digestion process ensures our body pH levels stays within the acceptable range. However, and this is important to know, our excretions may have higher or lower pH levels depending on what our bodies are discarding as waste. The fact that urine may be more or less acidic after eating a specific food does not mean our body pH has been impacted. The same is true about saliva. The measured pH level of saliva will vary depending on what you last ate, and the bacteria in your mouth.

However – a diet high in acidic foods means we certainly will force our bodies to produce more neutralizing chemicals. This can place a strain on our digestive systems and make us feel tired. And a diet high in alkaline foods will reduce the efficacy of our stomach acids and our digestion process may be less efficient. This may mean undigested food makes it into the large intestines where the many bacteria that share our bodies have a feast – and produce various waste products of their own. Oh bloating is such fun!

The  acid-forming vs alkaline-forming food categories in the end do very little for our overall internal body pH balance (since other biological processes regulate those pH levels). However, the food categories are probably an effective diet aid simply because they do encourage healthy food choices.Really the acid-alkaline categories are not much different that the traditional food guide based on recommended daily servings of vegetables and fruits, grains and meats.

And in the end if the acid-forming vs alkaline forming food groupings make your choices easier and healthier – well that is a good thing! Just don’t pay attention to the mythology that goes along with the groupings!


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