Not very long ago, I was sitting with a group of people, and somehow the discussion turned towards whether this person should go to the Macy’s in downtown St. Paul at midnight for Black Friday, and more specifically, whether this young woman would be safe.
For those of you who haven’t been to downtown St. Paul, it’s not exactly a hotbed of activity at night. There aren’t many clubs, nor are there many people. For the crowds, the parties, and most of the crime you cross the Mississippi into downtown Minneapolis. Based on my own experience, I was arguing that she would be fine.
The problem is that in the moment, I forgot that because I am male, my experience of walking down the street is significantly different from the experience of the typical female. I essentially forgot my privilege.
If you ask a group of men what they do on a daily basis to protect themselves from being raped, you’d probably get blank stares and maybe one answer of not going into really sketchy parts of town, or depending on the group you’d get a homophobic joke. Ask that same question to a group of women and you’d get a significantly longer list that includes things like where you walk, who you walk with and how you hold your keys (see the banner on this page)when you’re walking by yourself.
I know this, and I recognize it as an injustice, but somehow in the midst of the conversation, I forgot it and started arguing from my privilege of being a guy.
So why am I telling you this? It reminds me of a TEDx talk given by Jay Smooth recently where he talks about talking about race.You can click the link above, or watch the video embedded below.
Here’s the quote that got me thinking about this incident:
And in general I think we need to move away from the premise that being a good person is a fixed, immutable characteristic, and shift towards seeing being good as a practice, and it is a practice that we carry out by engaging with our imperfections. We need to shift from, we need to shift toward thinking of being a good person the same way we think of being a clean person. Being a clean person is something that you maintain and work on every day
I’m someone who cares about the equality of women and the elimination of sexism. What Jay and this discussion about Macy’s reminds me is that this isn’t stuff that you learn once and you’re set for life. It’s a matter of practice, of continuing to see the residue of sexism, privilege and other -isms, and continuing to work to become better at cleaning that residue off.