Recently candidate for Ward 5 city councillor Miranda Jimmy created a firestorm when she dropped an open letter to the victor of the hard fought battle, Sarah Hamilton. In it Miranda congratulates her opponent on her victory and raises 5 assumptions (shoulda called them fears) that leaves her, let’s use the word “worried”, about the future of her ward under the leadership of Ms. Hamilton.
Let me start by saying this post was in poor taste. No one wants to hear the loser bash their victorious opponent not a week post election. My first read was that the post came off like the ramblings of a sore loser attempting to deflect responsibility for their loss. Then I read the Twitter (NB: NEVER READ THE COMMENTS!!!”)
One comment (made by a woman) really got to me:
“It’s damn insulting to residents of this Ward 5… to accuse us of racism because she didn’t win.”
I read and re-read the post. I texted a friend.
Was I missing something? Honestly, I felt like we were all watching the same movie and then I fell asleep and woke up and everyone was sobbing. (This happens to me all the time.)
I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t hear it. Is this what they mean when they refer to dog-whistle politics? Cause goddamn somebody was registering the message and it sure as hell wasn’t me!
Then my friend forwarded me another Jimmy post in which she lists some of the disadvantages she feels she came up against in her run that she plans on exploring through her blog. One of the issues being considered for exploration was (dramatic pause for effect) systemic white privilege.
Full disclosure: I am an opinionated, outspoken, easily fired-up, woman of colour. So it’s possible that I don’t fully grasp why the term “white privilege” provokes such strong negative emotions in white people. But damn guys what is UP??
Is it that any conversation around race makes you uncomfortable, so you deflect with exclamation points?
Is it that, in today’s climate, the stigma of being branded a racist is so bad that you feel compelled to scream “I’M NOT RACIST” at the mere mention of the possibility of privilege at play?
Or maybe, more generously, it’s that you haven’t fully explored the ideas behind the concept of white privilege and therefore simplistically conflate the act of considering that white privilege may be at play with calling all residents and more notably the voters of Ward 5 racists.
It’s on this last point where I would like to spend some time.
Random House dictionary defines privilege as: “a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most”. The problem with privilege, however is that it is really really hard to see! It’s sort of like asking a fish to feel water.
What’s funny to me is that feminists can easily see this principle at work in terms of the under-representation of women in positions of power (*cough *cough City Council). Male privilege abounds! It even inspires funny hashtags like #mansplaining.
But, by sticking the rather striking word “white” in front of the word privilege we get a far more jarring definition: white privilege is a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a white person, beyond the advantages of non-whites. That’s a harder one to say out loud, isn’t it? Calling out white privilege is NOT the same as calling someone a racist. That’s the old bait and switch technique!
I think the real mistake that Jimmy made in this first blog post was simply a mistake of omission. She wrote “systemic white privilege”. I like to think she omitted the word “male” from the notion of privilege because it’s so obviously at play. I mean our Council doubled the number of women this go around because we went from one woman (Hey Bev!) to two. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a reasonable person in Edmonton to say that male privilege isn’t alive and well in the YEG.
(I recognize that some might say she left it out because she thought it would play weird since the victor of her ward was in fact a woman but I doubt it.)
And it was this omission that set-off the firestorm. But I ask you white feminists… spend some time exploring why male privilege to you is a given, but white privilege is not. If it ain’t intersectional it ain’t feminism.
Disclaimer: I don’t know Miranda Jimmy nor do I endorse any of her views espoused over the course of this hard fought campaign. I do however, respect her ambition and effort. YEG needs more Mirandas. Not less. For some fun reading on the subject check out this article from HuffPo.