My husband and I have been married for just over two years now. One of the things that we really like to do together is go for walks. We walk through our tree-lined neighborhood, holding hands, and chat about our days, the weather, all of that average, mundane stuff that relationships are made of. I treasure those walks.
While we are walking, we rarely get a second glance. A neighbor or two might glance up and smile in greeting or extend an “ ‘Evening” but rarely do we get much more than that. I’m okay with that. We aren’t out for a walk to be recognized or announce anything about ourselves to anyone else. We are simply strolling at dusk, anonymous and happy.
While we are walking, we are anonymous. We are just a couple, like any other.
Another couple might be walking at the same time we are walking. They, too, might have been together for over five years and be highly committed. They may presently struggle with many of the same things young couples struggle with: defining their couplehood, maintaining family of origin relationships and navigating emergent adulthood. They, too, may someday plan on buying a house, planting a garden and raising children.
When this couple walks, though, they are not anonymous. They may be gay or lesbian, biracial, or have any the other characteristics that seem to require explanation. In short, they deviate from “the norm.”
Over the past year, this has really struck me. When I’m thinking about what being oppressed and privileged means, I think that one of the primary clues that I’m thinking about a category of privilege is that it does not require explanation. When my husband and I walk at dusk, I feel like I can rest assured that nothing is assumed about us. We could be liberal or conservative, parents or childless, in touch with our families or not.
As far as I know, holding my husband’s hand is not regularly construed as an overt political statement.
One of my assumptions is that all people have been both recipients of privilege and victims of oppression. Where in your life are you oppressed? Where in your life are you privileged? If you are having trouble defining these areas, think about the parts of your life and context that demand explanation. What does that mean?
*Many thanks to Dr. Terri Karis and Dr. Bruce Kuehl, two professors at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, who got these ideas rolling.