As a second-generation Indian woman living in the South, I have encountered racism and oppression consistently throughout my life. From a young age I was ostracized by my peers and unfortunately, am still often ostracized in both social and professional settings. In 19 years I:
- Have been stopped at dinner by a stranger and have been asked if I am “One of those A-Rabs”
- Have been followed by the same stranger in his car back to my hotel
- Went through school being called a terrorist by my peers
- Had to learn how to laugh off terrorist jokes
- Am afraid of getting pinpointed, frisked, and questioned at airport security
- Often have people invalidate how American I am
- Often have someone question my nationality when I answer “American” (despite being born and raised in America)
- Have to be careful of which streets to drive down in my hometown because active KKK members still exist
- Am scared to walk ANYWHERE alone (during the day or at night)
- Have been rejected from a college because I come from a low socio-economic status high school
Men in American society claim to be oppressed, and indeed, there are issues that take a toll on their mental health and even lead to increased rates of suicide. However, it is easy to see that despite their “oppression,” American men are still benefiting from so many privileges that minorities and women do not benefit from.
Privilege is defined as, “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.” In her article, “White Privilege and Male Privilege,” Peggy McIntosh brings to light the privileges associated with being a straight, white male in America. But more than that, McIntosh expresses that she easily forgets the privileges she has as a white woman and refers to the subject as “elusive and fugitive”. Viewing the issue of white privilege as ‘elusive’ is a privilege in itself as it shows that an individual can be blind to the oppression of the people that surround them. It also speaks to why it is difficult for some individuals to grasp the idea of suffering from social constructs and its implications on everyday life.
This article reminded me of a lecture by Michael Kimmel, an American sociologist, speaking about an encounter he experienced with two women. Kimmel, a white man, was listening to a conversation between a white woman and a black woman. The black woman asked the white woman, “when you wake up in the morning, what do you see?” The white woman replied, “I see a woman.” To which the black woman replied that when she herself looks in the mirror she sees a black woman, making the point that she is always aware of her race while a white person may not be. Hearing this exchange, Dr. Kimmel thought about what he sees when looking in the mirror and came to the realization that the first thing he sees when he looks in the mirror is simply a human being. The anecdote of Dr. Kimmel portrays how easily someone benefiting from privilege can be ignorant to it.
Being a double minority (Indian, woman) in America, I suffer from systemic oppression and sexism, ideas which many people deny exist in our society and are seemingly unfathomable to most men; but for me and so many other women this is the harsh reality of everyday life. Despite being oppressed by phenomena such as toxic masculinity, men have been benefiting from a system of oppression built and sustained by white men, which effectively marginalizes and silences minorities in America.
It is interesting to see studies that chart a decline in men’s health in recent years, as we also continue to see a cultural shift occurring in which minorities are demanding and beginning to gain equality (and not superiority). How will diminishing privilege impact cis men in the years to come? And how will everyone else benefit?
*photos provided by the author