For many of us privilege and oppression are not mutually exclusive. I face multiple intersections of oppression personally. I am oppressed for being disabled both with physical and invisible disabilities. I am oppressed for being transgender. I face discrimination for being a quip (a queer crip). I grew up in a lower working class family, so I grew up economically disadvantaged, and I endured class-based discrimination. As a disabled person with complex medical needs, I face economic disparities, even though my family has more money, and is greater advantaged than when I was a child.
On the flip side, I am a white person. I have white privilege. I have a place to live, and don’t generally worry too much about where my food is coming from or if I can buy clothes. I have greater amounts of economic security than many other Americans. Also, when my gender is acknowledged – this can be affected by my identity as a wheelchair user…sometimes I am not even acknowledged as a person and individuals speak to the non-disabled people I am with – I am typically identified as male. I understand and acknowledge where I am privileged, and believe it is important to speak out against oppression. I recognize that it is important to discuss our privilege as much as our oppression. I also understand the concepts are not mutually exclusive.
I really owe this discussion to my friend Kris Guin, the founder of Queerability, who was talking about how the concepts of oppression and privilege are not on a binary. In the quest to express the intersection of our complex identities, I proposed the concept of marvilegization. The idea is that most people have some form of privilege, which may or may not be affected by the forms of oppression they face. For me, it’s great that some people acknowledge I identify as a man, but for much of society, having a physical disability often erases my entire gendered existence. I am not seen as a human being of any gender expression, but rather an extension of my wheelchair. I am nothing more than the visible signs of my disability.
This is also true of my expression of sexuality. If I am considered a sexual being at all, I am considered heterosexual. Being in a visible relationship with a person who identifies as female tends to support this notion, although my sexuality is far more complex than that. I believe I face some amount of privilege when identified as a man who has been in a long term partnership with a woman, regardless of what my sexual orientation happens to be. So, how can we express the complexity that accompanies these intersections of privilege and oppression that exist within so many of us?
The idea behind marvilegization is having an understanding of where marginalization and privilege come together. How oppression affects other aspects of our identities is more than just a blanket notion that privilege is absolute in any given circumstance, and that oppression is expected simply by acknowledging our marginalized identities. In my own life, unless I acknowledge I am queer, most people have no idea. They do not always see the oppression I face or contribute to it, because it is often assumed disabled people lack any form of sexuality. This goes hand in hand with the notion that we are not sexual beings, a gross misconception. It is also harmful to asexual members of the disability community. Asexuality exists regardless of disability, but this is seldom acknowledged. The two are neither specifically intertwined nor mutually exclusive. Still, the idea I am non-sexual lends some bit of privilege, in that I am not identified as queer, either.
There are so many gray areas that exist when it comes to how we identify. In truth, the vast majority of people on this planet face a mix of privilege and oppression. I believe that it would do us good to study how aspects of privilege intersect with aspects of oppression, so we can have a greater understanding of how to address the needs of oppressed groups in an attempt to eradicate the discrimination such marginalized populations face. Understanding how we are marvilegized, can also help us to understand ourselves better, especially as we attempt to rectify the idea that oppressed aspects of our existence can bleed into the privileged ones, and vice versa. I mean, by failing to identify me as queer or trans, thanks to my wheelchair, I sometimes can avoid specific instances of discrimination, something that can, at times, give me privilege. At the same time, denying me such identities is its own form of discrimination, and is oppressive all on its own.
Whether it leads to more privilege or discrimination, marvilegization needs to be acknowledged, and the impact of privilege amongst marginalized communities is definitely something we need to study further, to understand its true impact. It can also help us to understand how multiple forms of oppression are connected, both with aspects of privilege, and on their own.
Some more ideas of marvilegization:
-individuals with physical disabilities being characterized as intellectually disabled,so they are stigmatized in ways we see done to those with both physical disabilities and intellectual disabilities
-gender or sexuality either being erased or defined by another existing marginalized form of oppression (i.e. the idea people of certain races are either prudish or hypersexual)
-the mischaracterization that certain races are connected with certain religions, and the mistreatment of said individuals on that basis (i.e. all Arabs are Muslim, all white people are Christians)
I look forward to further discussion on the ideas that have been presented.