power, privilege, and everyday life.

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I work for a company that sells magazines door to door. Before going to a military base, I was told to remove my low-cut top and put something on that covered my entire chest to “respect the men that serve our country and dress more conservative like their wives do.” I didn’t realize my clothes have to be “respectful” for men. I felt like I was being slut-shamed and viewed as an object by my employers.

Good girls don’t get raped.

Said by my estranged mother to me during our first phone conversation in months.  I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and assaults committed later on, and have never disclosed to a family member.  She said it in response to a comment about the fact that I was teaching a class on sexual assault.  Made me feel awful and scared about what’s happened to me, even though I know it’s not my fault.

Small talk conversation about our high school between me, someone of Sri Lanken ancestry, and two white people. One of the white people said, “Our high school had to bring in a gifted education program to help get rid of Punjabi gangs”. As they say this, they wriggle their eyebrows at me as if to suggest that I am in association with these Punjabi gangs that supposedly have plagued their high school. I say, “I’m not, Punjabi, I’m Sri Lankan”. The white person then says, “Yeah, well, we had those too.”

Initially, the comment and the body language made me feel confused because I wasn’t sure if they were referring to me- they easily could have been stating a simple fact but the body language suggested otherwise. When I clarified myself, they had the audacity to say yes, they were referring to me. It made me feel shocked and angry for a number of reasons. This person judged me to be Punjabi based on my skin colour. I also felt upset that this person was making sweeping assumptions about my supposed links to criminal activity based on my skin colour. GRR I feel angry now, thinking about it. 

Yeah, they’re everywhere.

In response to someone else’s question on how many Chinese students were in our building. I am Asian, and was in the room. I felt so very awkward and also frustrated at the tone that was used.

Meatless Mondays are a healthy addition to your week - the issue is just convincing your husband!

Said by a female newscaster on a major network morning show - in Massachusetts, where same sex marriage has been legal for *years*. Because all women are married, and only to men - and men must love meat, not veggies. 

"Do any of you speak English!?!?" (as the lady cuts to the front of the line) Yelled at me while in line with two other men of color (different shades of brown) at Costco 1-Hour Photo. Made me angry, so I gave it right back to her: "Yes! I speak English! The back of the line is over there!" 

I just assumed you were my nurse.

Said by countless patients at the hospital where I work as an Emergency physician, despite introducing myself as their doctor.  As a young woman physician, I am rarely taken seriously. People seem to think there is something cute or quaint about me being their doctor, like I’m playing dress up or something. 

You don’t LOOK Jewish!

Said to me in the middle of receiving my mammogram.  I’m a 50 year old female redhead reform Jewish rabbi.

A  white professor runs up to me from halfway down the hall.”I like your hair,” he says, without introduction. I have enormous curly red-blonde hair that has an obvious African texture.

"Very Irish."As he says this, he reaches out and touches it without permission. I almost gasp at the forwardness of it. I catch myself, smile weakly, and say nothing.

My hair is not Irish — I am light skinned and blonde, but I am Ethiopian and Turkish. I smile and say nothing. I am passing and that knowledge feels filthy in my head.

I said ‘shit’ in front of my chemistry teacher, after feeling really stressed about an exam. He replied by saying ‘That’s not how proper young ladies act!’ It wouldn’t have been so bad if he had simply told me off. 

Dear Sirs…

The beginning of a cover letter sent to the recruiting department of my office. The entire department is women. It made me feel angry that the sender felt competent business people couldn’t possibly be women.

Awkward Privilege, by Michael Cuauhtémoc Martínez

A friend asked me, “Where’d you get that dress from? China?” Guess she forgot that I already told her I’m not from China. 

My freshman year of college I made a single friend on my floor and for a while she was my only friend. The next year, my floormates were my closest friends and I would go out with them if I ever had extra money (which was very rare).
One day, out of nowhere, I got a text from her calling me “fucking bitch”, saying that I was racist because she was white and I only liked Asians, and I would turn her down every time she wanted to go to our favorite restaurant.


I was getting by on loans and scholarships and what little my widowed mother could send me while she had two working parents and was upper middle class. She wanted me to go out to eat with her every single week.


I’m Latina (non-white passing), She’s white. My friends and floormates were Chinese, White, Black and mixed. I felt humiliated, sad, angry, like our friendship only counted if I could afford it.

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