A couple of years ago, when I started participating in the Fat Acceptance community, I made a comment saying that I believed Fat Prejudice was more acceptable in the present day than race, or gender, or any other sort of prejudice. Indeed, I believe I might have implied that Fat Prejudice was ‘worse’ than other types of prejudice.

It was not one of my finest moments

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The next morning I woke up to an angry tirade of replies to my comment, with people telling me I was ignorant and insulting, and how dare I even suggest such a thing and I had better fucking check my privilege straight away if I want to continue having a respected voice in the community. I felt sad, scared, and was terrified of any replies to other comments I had made for months afterwards. I immediately sent out apologies to every single person that replied to the offending comment, and it took me forever to feel safe in that particular community again.

Having said that… they were absolutely right.

I have a lot of privilege. I am well aware of this and I was aware of it back when I made my offensive comment. I am white, middle class, well educated, employed, able-bodied, and straight enough that you would not think otherwise. However, back then I hadn’t really thought about what my privilege meant, or how it affected my sense of reality.

By which I mean, I could wax lyrical about how being fat limits my clothing choices, my job opportunities, my dating prospects, and other areas of my life. But I cannot begin to understand what it’s like not having the choice to buy clothes in the first place, or not being able to gain the qualifications for a lot of the jobs I would not be considered for, or if I would be able to physically get to what few dates I might manage to arrange. Simply put, just because there are some areas where I do not have privilege, doesn’t mean I understand the impact of all privilege. I can sympathise with people who do not have my privilege, but I cannot empathise with them. And with my offensive comment, I wasn’t even sympathising. I was being rude and judgemental, and I deserved every single reprimand I received.

To this day I regret offending the people I offended with my ignorance, and if any of them felt unable to accept my apology, I absolutely respect that. However, I have to acknowledge how significant the experience was for me. I learned how little I knew at the time, and indeed how much I still need to learn, about how my privilege affects me. It taught me to never assume I understand or ever could understand how other people are affected by the privilege I hold.

Essentially, I learned the importance of checking my privilege, and as a blooming young activist that was something I think I needed to learn. Since activism (or at least, the variety in which I participate) involves discussion and opinion-voicing and interaction with other people, there is always inherently a chance that I will say something stupid or thoughtless, and I might not realise it if I am privileged enough to not notice. And while I am happy to be informed if I have said something terrible or offensive, nobody is under any obligation to tell me about it and nor would I expect them to. Rather, it is my responsibility to think before I speak, consider who I am speaking to, and remind myself of what I might not know about my audiences’ circumstances.

This is important not just for politeness’ sake. What if I had unknowingly said something that caused real psychological harm to someone? What if my words caused my audiences to feel unsafe, or as though they cannot talk to me about things they think I could help them with? If I don’t check my privilege I run a higher risk of causing harm to my audiences, and I don’t want to cause harm to anybody on Fatshion Hustlings. Not when it can be avoided by the simple act of thinking for a moment.

And even if I weren’t that bothered about hurting people, the whole point of my activism is that I want all underrepresented people to have a voice and to feel that their voice will not be ignored. And if I don’t check my privilege, I am also ignoring these voices. I am contributing to the very problems I claim to be trying to work on. And that is precisely the opposite of what I want to do.

How about the rest of you? Have you had experiences where you’ve been called out on your privilege? Have you ever called someone else out? Share any thoughts you wish!

2 thoughts on “Learning to Check My Privilege

  1. The problem is that a reader doesn’t always interpret what a writer is trying to say.
    Words, and phrasing, can mean different things to different people, and in the absence of emphasis (being on paper), much can be misunderstood. it’s what makes us all individuals I guess. At least you tried to make amends for an inopportune ‘error’.
    I find your articles interesting and thought provoking, whatever the subject.
    Happy Holidays. 🙂

  2. Kudos to you for being able to admit that you were wrong, and listening, and learning. I went through the same thing – grew up with some fairly racist family members, so I was normalized to it at a young age. What really woke me up was how friends and classmates of Indian/Middle Eastern descent were treated right after 9/11. I was in college in New Jersey at the time – we could see the NYC skyline from our campus, I watched the second tower fall, and we got some smoke and ash on campus, so we were right there. And wow, in the weeks after, a lot of white people were intolerant, rude, threatening, fearful, making asinine assumptions about anyone who looked even vaguely Middle Eastern – and it didn’t matter if they were born here or not, they were targeted regardless. Awful.

    That said, I’ve been called out on white privilege – and I’m glad I have been! I mean, it sucks to hear that feedback in the moment, but it’s helped me learn to listen, and it’s amazing how much we can learn when we really listen. There is not a single time I was called out where I meant what I said or did to be hurtful or insensitive – I was just ignorant and unaware of the impact I was having, so I’m grateful for people pointing things out. I needed to hear it, and eventually I stopped being defensive and started really listening. I still remind myself to listen to others, and think before I respond.

    Mostly I call people out on thin privilege because I’ve been on both sides of the fat/thin coin. Long story short, was fat, got sick, am now thin, and will likely remain so as my particular medical issues are chronic. But I still take it personally when I hear fat shaming, or just general insensitive commentary, so I’ve gotten pretty good at gently calling people out for that sort of thing. I’ve had a few great conversations with people about fat acceptance – they didn’t all buy into it, but they listened, which I felt was a good first step. Worst case, they blow me off, but at least they know where I stand and they learn that I’m not just going to sit there and tolerate certain kinds of commentary.

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