Use the space below to imagine some ways that we can use our privileges creatively? (from driving a car, access to education, technological skills, connections to people with wealth, to citizenship, race, class and gendered privilege) What are ways that we can build power without access to the rewards of the society we are intending to replace with our radical vision?
Sitting at the feet of an amazing elder, Pat Hussain, she once told me that the thing about privilege is that “you can either spend it or you can waste it, but ya’ can’t give it away.”
Growing up with a coal miner’s daughter, I learned real fast that you use what you got, that’s how you get what you need to get by, and as the youngest of eight, growing up as a sickly child in an Appalachian family, what she had was manipulation, and she taught me it well. In those sweet, Southern arms she had the power to control life and death. Protocol and gentility never wavered in our home, and it is there that I learned that the power to inflict the most pain did not, in fact, lie with the one who has the biggest stick, but with she who truly knows your soul and can crush your spirit with a word. Let them do for you and pay for you and carry the heavy stuff and call you darlin’, not because you can’t carry the load yourself(that’s beside the point) or because you like it(even if you do), you let them do it because it makes them feel important and needed, but you’d better be paying close attention because if you ever have to do for yourself(which you will), you damn well better know how to do it without asking for help. That’s where the power lies—in your survival, and that’s what they can never know… until it’s too late. The secret truth that we are all we need, and we can make it.
Now I’m a thrifty shopper, but I like to spend my privilege strategically, subversively, and when it’s done to perfection, well, my, it is delicious! I don’t know if she knew it or not, I think maybe she did, but as they were correcting the “fer” in my accented speech, and making me set that 10-piece place setting for dinner, and that tea party for my tenth birthday, and read Miss Manners with my feet crossed at the ankles… those were all the lessons I could never learn in school. Did she really want me to aspire to that? or did she know that the propriety I learned would inevitably mix with the mental agility and femininity I was honing? Those grammar rules and that proper English… I use them to teach our beautiful, struggling “illegals” how to use those words to survive, and those dresses and stockings and heels… I wear them proudly as I get on my knees to give my lovers pleasure, to enjoy my own lust as it runs down my thigh to greet them. And those manners for that fancy dinner party? Why, yes, thank you for asking, I use those too and that $120K piece of paper from Duke; I use them to infiltrate space they would never let us in if they knew who I really was, and while I sip that expensive wine; I listen; I study; I learn, and as I thank them for the wonderful evening, I strategize how best to use it in their demise. The revolution is not coming, my dear, it is here, and while I fight for its swift collapse, I have to disclose that this system of oppression does well by me, in so many ways, and then I remember that even though the promised land is intimidating because I can’t always see it, these moments I feel so connected to you make me willing to spend every ounce I’ve got for the chance of getting us to freedom. And as I’m sitting in that pew, calling on those verses I learned so long ago and asking God for the faculty and opportunity to convince them of our worthiness to exist, as queers, as women, as people of color, as refugees, I am also asking for strength to keep spending this privilege and thanking God every day for letting me find you along the way.
-Alba Onofrio, January 16, 2009