True privilege cannot be “toned down”. If it is an actual advantage, it cannot be reduced in magnitude. Those who find themselves with access to more resources than most cannot simply flip a switch and watch their networks dissipate. Nor should they be asked to.
I thought these thoughts while revisiting Margo Jefferson’s “Negroland: A Memoir”. In this book, she describes what many would consider “a self-confessed and proud bourgeois” lifestyle. Which probably would not ruffle many feathers, if she did not describe this lifestyle with an arrogance usually reserved for successful criminals turned even more successful rappers.
She pens these words as introduction:
I was born in 1947, and my generation, like its predecessors, was taught that since our achievements received little notice or credit from white America, we were not to discuss our faults, lapses, or uncertainties in public. (Even now I shy away from the word “failings.”) Even the least of them would be turned against the race. Most white people made no room for the doctrine of “human, all too human”: our imperfections were sub- or provisionally human.
For my generation the motto was still: Achievement. Invulnerability. Comportment.
part of me dreads revealing anything in these pages except our drive to excellence. But I dread the constricted expression that comes from that. And we’re prone to being touchy. Self-righteously smug and snobbish. So let me begin in a quiet, clinical way.
I was born into the Chicago branch of Negroland. My father was a doctor, a pediatrician, and for some years head of pediatrics at Provident, the nation’s oldest black hospital. My mother was a social worker who left her job when she married, and throughout my childhood she was a full-time wife, mother, and socialite. But where did they come from to get there? And which clubs and organizations did they join to seal their membership in this world?
“Negroland: A Memoir”, Margo Jefferson, pg 8
She continues further:
Local clubs, schools, and camps will be named as we go along. Skin color and hair will be described, evaluated too, along with other racialized physical traits. Questions inevitably will arise. Among them: How does one–how do you, how do I–parse class, race, family, and temperament? How many kinds of deprivation are there? What is the compass of privilege? What has made and maimed me?
“Negroland: A Memoir”, Margo Jefferson, pg 9
I really do not want Asylum to be mistaken for a solipsistic philosophy. It must be stated in some US Black writer’s writing, however, that each US Black must enjoy, encounter, and endure through their own individual existence and experiences in this universe. Our common oppressions do not obligate us to common privileges. In fact, we probably should not even fancy oxymorons like “common privileges”. No true privilege is ever “common”.
Nor are our oppressions ever that shared across distance, class, family, and predigree. Not all US Blacks are descendants of slaves. Our shared “heritage” is not as shared as common assumptions would frame it. There is nothing wrong with us not really being an “us”. Acceptance is necessary for healthy relations. If our solidarity is necessary, it would need to be a solidarity based on honest interests. A shared lie about common privileges will only create more hierarchies similar to ones we already claim to be oppressed by. A shared lie about common oppressions will only confuse those already suffering more than most of us about our actual objective political and social conditions.