Here’s a heavy topic many want to avoid, but it is for that reason I think we need to face it. So here is my personal experience and take on it.
It exists. It exists everywhere. It exists in varying degrees. Everyone experiences having, or not having, it somewhere on a scale from negative ten to ten.
I am a white, liberally-minded (but not Democrat), feminist, atheist, pansexual woman who left the United States at twenty-two after growing up there–in what is the mid-to-upper lower class.
What the hell is the mid-to-upper lower class? Poor white people. I was on reduced lunches in grade school, but could not afford them so I often picked fries from my friends’ plates. The soles of my shoes were not connected to my shoes save for duct tape I wound around the shoes and then decorated in art class (she’s so artsy and weird, schoolmates would exclaim). I broke both my ankles within a year of the other, thereby ending my sports and dooming me later. My caretakers did not provide adequate food, but being a tall person for my age I was able to lie on work resumes as early as thirteen and get enough money or leftovers to feed my younger brother and I. And yet, I know I was privileged.
I got into my first college of choice on an art scholarship. When I was later kicked out due to scandal and young, stupid suite-mates, I got into another university in two weeks–months after their entry deadline. I do not pretend this is something which would have been offered to a person of color. Nor do I think I would have received a pencil and paper during my eighteen-hour stay in the local jail to draw on.
My sexuality is easy to hide. My non-beliefs are easy to hide, I only had to attend Catholic church with the father and Baptist church with the mother and, to me, listen to story time. Having two racist and homophobic parents was harder because I have always been outspoken and when they said I couldn’t be someone’s friend because of their skin color or sexuality we argued, a lot.
But I didn’t fear police when I got pulled over; I feared my parents, completely different. I feared sexual assault from white men more than I ever feared a person of color or a religious person, except the Bible-thumpers–they were militant about converting me if my atheism got out.
On the negative to ten scale of privilege in the United States I’d put myself somewhere at a four to five.
Japanese life. Different story now. What are my privileges here, because I do have some that a natural Japanese citizen does not.
Let’s see, I can color my hair and generally not be seen as a threat to society (colored hair typically depicts a delinquent). I can have tattoos and generally not be seen as a threat to society (tattoos are often associated with the Japanese mafia, although this ideology is fading out). I can wear bright colors and unique clothes and go to work in them (except my medical boots *grumbles forever about her prior company’s harassment*), whereas Japanese people pretty much go to work in black, maybe gray or navy, but definitely business wear. I don’t even own business wear. I can buy a car if I have cash. I can get a visa to stay in Japan more easily because I am married to a Japanese citizen, most foreigners need a school or company sponsorship; I still have to pay for that visa but it’s about 40USD. Due to being married to a Japanese national I might be approved for a credit card, but maybe not. That’s about where my privileges in Japan end…
The list of what I cannot do is very long, let’s just bullet point this, yea?
● get a loan
● become a citizen (I mean I can, but it’s REALLY difficult.)
● buy a house
● go into some establishments
Things I have to deal with regularly:
● being touched (skin, hair, or breasts) by Japanese children to adults
● asked very personal/ sexual questions by Japanese children to adults
● be spoken about as though I do not understand a word being said despite being pretty much fluent (in these cases I almost always call them out and watch their horrified reaction for LOLs)
● order in accent-less Japanese only for the server to turn to my husband for him to repeat my order word-for-word…
● being spoken to in loud, slow Japanese so I un-der-stand it bet-ter.
● being interrupted while reading/ listening to music for someone to practice their English with (I charge for that, sorry)
● being told how well I use chopsticks/ speak Japanese/ practice cultural habits (taking off shoes in doorway, so hard)
So many more in both lists, but you get the idea and it’ll get worse and worse from here. So, I am not even a second-class citizen. I am a visitor who married a citizen. I’m not even an immigrant.
I’m a rarity and an oddity, with no say in how my body or self is treated in public spaces pretty much. I’ve had old ladies and children at the public baths, where you are naked, sidle up to me and rub my arm and remark, “My what white skin.” And if that doesn’t make you squirm with horror movie setting chills… oh man!
So, back to that negative ten to ten scale. In Japan I’m going to put myself at about a negative three. Because as bad as it is for me, an American white woman, it is worse for Chinese, Korean, black people, and homeless (There are no homeless in Japan. *Avatar Ba-Sing-Se Ju Dee smile*).
Privilege exists. Every majority in every country benefits from it. Every minority in every country is hindered by it, to varying degrees. Are my hindrances in Japan worse than the hindrances a black woman who shares all my other qualities would experience in the United States? No. She would have a much more difficult time in the United States or Japan!
Be aware of how you benefit and how you don’t. And become aware about how those around you are affected by the system of privileges and disadvantages. The world needs empathy so much right now and the first step in empathy is understanding another’s point of view.
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