A Friday Chat About ‘The Perils of “Privilege”’

Featuring Megan Reynolds!

Photo credit: taniarose, CC0 Public Domain.

Megan and I actually had this Friday Chat on Wednesday.

MEGAN: NICOLE!!! We meet again.

NICOLE: MEGAN!!!!!! I miss you but I am excited to hear how things are going at Jezebel!

MEGAN: Things are going well! It’s nice and strange to be in an office again, especially one that is air conditioned like a meat locker, but for the most part, it has been a smooth transition back into that 9 to 5 life. Also, not working nights has changed my life dramatically. I use this dumb app to track my sleep because I’m a crazy person and last night my “sleep quality” was at a cute 84 percent. That is UNPRECEDENTED for a weeknight. I’m thrilled. How’s the good ship Billfold??

NICOLE: I made everybody set goals. Also I am laughing out loud so hard right now. Because it’s working! We’re setting financial goals for the week on Monday and then reporting back on how we did.

What’s Your Financial Goal for This Week?

MEGAN: That’s amazing! I love the direction you’ve taken the site thus far, like the whole community aspect. I think that’s still the best thing about the Billfold and to see it really flourish is heartwarming.

NICOLE: We have a really good community. Good enough that we can discuss a book on which we have many different perspectives and stay friends. So you read The Perils of “Privilege”: Why Injustice Can’t Be Solved By Accusing Others of Advantage, right?

MEGAN: I did, though I will be honest and say that I read it a while ago, probably sometime around when we decided to do this. I re-read bits and bobs last night in an attempt to refresh my memory, but the thing about it is that it felt a little bit like a really long article in The Atlantic — I could read it once and be engaged, but to read it a second time felt like… a little harder. So I’m going to be a jerk and throw the ball back to you — what were your initial thoughts?

NICOLE: I’ve read through it once in full and then I’ve re-read sections. At this point, especially after listening to other Billfolders’ responses and working with writers on a few pieces about the book, I feel like the discussion of privilege is really complicated — and so is the discussion of how to address the systemic prejudices and inequalities that are behind a lot of these privileges.

But on my initial read and on my repeated readings, I did respond “yes, yes, yes” to the idea that people who don’t have a lot of financial privilege or personal power still describe themselves as being privileged, which speaks to the complexity of the whole situation.

MEGAN: I’m pretty sure my first impression, after like, the first chapter was that unpacking privilege of any sort in the way that the author wanted to do was going to be inherently problematic and also hard to swallow for basically anyone, but especially for people who have traditionally thought of themselves as marginalized in some ways. Like “feminism,” the word has lost its meaning for me, and I think she did a good job of elucidating that.

NICOLE: When Diane Shipley sent over her piece about the book and noted that it “fails to provide useful insights into life with a lack of privilege” (except for the financial aspect) I was like wow, I should have noticed that. So… yeah. I felt like I learned as much from The Billfold’s discussion as I did from reading the book.

Which is what it should be!

MEGAN: Yeah….the book’s P.O.V. was clearly that of the author’s, which is FINE, it’s her book, it’s her thing, etc., I get it. But a book about privilege from someone who does NOT possess some privileges would be very different. That’s maybe what my issue was with the book? A lot of her more niggling points I agreed with — the whole “your privilege is showing” thing is something that I’ve only seen in passing and to be quite honest, I try to avoid those kinds of conversations because I’m not interested in a privilege-off. I believe there was also a thread in there about the sort of kneejerk, “But I’m a white, upper-middle-class blah blah with cars and etc.” disclaimer that presents itself in so many personal essays and stuff, and I gotta say, I hate that shit.

NICOLE: I’d like to think that we’re operating at a nuanced enough level that we can read someone’s personal essay and understand where the privileges are without having them directly described.

MEGAN: Yes! And that disclaimer is nothing more than a self-serving nod to cover your own ass. Oftentimes, that disclaimer is completely irrelevant to the story that’s being told and if it IS, the story should be able to stand on its own without a very obvious, screeching-red sign listing out the ways you may have had a leg up in the world.

NICOLE: But we also write these kinds of things to… like, I rolled up my sundresses into a tote bag and got in my Lyft to go to the airport, and the driver was all “just a day trip?” and I was “no, six days” and then the driver explained all the reasons why she could never take just a tote bag on a trip.

So if I would have said something like “six days, but I’m small, and I’m packing sundresses, and I’m going to use the hotel shampoo…” I don’t know. I’m going off on a tangent. But I think what I’m trying to say is the world is not as nice a comment section as The Billfold is, so we write these to pre-empt the “well, not everyone can do that” comments.

MEGAN: Sidebar — your packing grid is a fucking inspiration and that is one of many reasons I am truly humbled to know you.

What Is an “Outfit Grid?”

Back to the privilege thing, yeah, yeah, we say the things to pre-empt the haters, I guess, or at least the people who live to nitpick. It’s not an easy conversation to have but I think that the fact that a conversation is even happening in the first place is good. Like, I’ve found myself in the position of telling friends of mine to be the teensiest bit aware about their privilege and felt full of self-righteousness in the moment, BUT, I was also right. Some conversations need to be checked.

I don’t do that anymore because maybe they’re sick of it and honestly, so am I. Privilege policing often falls on the shoulders of the marginalized groups in question and that is not our job. Like, not every moment has to be a teachable moment because life would be exhausting.

NICOLE: For sure.

I do not want to keep you too long, so do you have any final Friday Chat thoughts? BTW, I’m doing these with other Billfolders on Friday now! There’s a waiting list! I am so delighted.

MEGAN: That’s amazing!!!! I love that! At this time, I have no final Friday Chat thoughts, but I am excited to meet you tomorrow FINALLYYY and have a goddamn drink. I love what you’ve done with the place and I miss it dearly.

NICOLE: To drinks! And you know the best thing? We’re having this Friday Chat on Wednesday evening, so we still have a real Friday ahead of us. Friday is on its way!

This post is part of the Billfold Book Club’s discussion of The Perils of “Privilege”.

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.