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What is Normal? What is Privilege?

What is the definition of “normal?? According to our selected readings from Ore for this week, normal, or normativity, is defined by a set of socially defined norms and values. In the West, (and by West I mean Eurocentric societies such as the United States), our understanding of normal is centered around the normativity of the middle-class (or elite), white, heterosexual, (predominately) Christian male. This organization of the social structure places the prototypical white man at the top of the social hierarchy, and any deviation from this construction of normativity is labeled “Other? and therefore undesirable or deviant, perpetually placed in a subservient position on the social hierarchy. Establishing a set of normative values in any society creates a system of power and privilege unequally (and unfairly) distributed along an ascending/descending scale of oppression and marginalization.

In other words, this social hierarchy can be thought of as the Matrix of Domination, in which everyone is caught up in through either their position of relative privilege or oppression within society. This Matrix is a complex structure that governs the lives of everyone within society, made more powerful by its relative invisibility. This is also the way that privilege works in a social, institutional, and systemic way; through the invisibility of how privilege is parceled out along the socially constructed hierarchy. For example, many lower-class struggling white college students fail to see how they are privileged through their whiteness; how society has been created to make their ascension from “rags-to-riches? (AKA the American Dream) easier and more plausible than say your lower-class African American, or African immigrant.

As a poor, lower-class, Bi-sexual, Black, single mother in the American context, my positions within the social hierarchy are manifold and represent multiple layers of oppression and marginalization. This means that I am not just part of an oppressed group because I am “Black? (race) or because I am a “woman? (gender) or because I am “poor? (class) or “Bi? (sexuality). All of these factors work together, simultaneously, to create a constantly shifting social position of marginalization within the society that we live in. This also creates a mountain of obstacles to overcome in trying to live my own version of the so-called American dream, obstacles that some people are never able to overcome because of their peripheral status to what is considered “normative?.

One of the tricky things about privilege, power, oppression, and marginalization is that they can all manifest in different contexts within the same individual at different times. For example, let’s consider Barak Obama. His categorization as being “Black? places him in a subversive or oppressed group racially. Yet his gender (male) places him in a position of privilege, as does his upper-class, heterosexual and Christian group identity. In different contexts, his position of relative privilege places him in a higher socio-economic position on the social hierarchy than say a Black, middle-class woman, or a white lower-class woman. Yet he is simultaneously placed in a subordinate status to a white upper/middle class heterosexual male. All of these positions are based on/defined by the social construction of normativity.

What do you consider to be normal? How have these thoughts and opinions been formed through your interactions with society? Through the readings for the week, has your opinion about what you considered normal changed? Are there any commonly held beliefs that you have come to realize are based on the fabrication of normative values? Please discuss.

Comments

I like Justins comment about playing roles...and possibly we think someone is not being "normal" when they don't play their role the way society wants them to. When they dieviate from the stereotypes placed upon them they scare people. We want familiarity and we like it when we can expect what will happen. When people don't play thier roles the way the general public wants, they get sanctions for being differant.

I think it is very interesting to think of the norm as a white, middle-class man. I am a white, middle-class female and I at times feel as if i am judged on that. This whole matrix of domination system has really made me think of what it means to be a minority and how one feels on a daily basis. I truly think that our society has a more open minded than 30 years ago and that we are shifting to a new society where individuals are more equal or at least more represented. I think it is going to take a long time for this to happen, and its not going to be easy, but if everyone shares the same vision, it can happen.

Like everyone else I struggled with what it meant to be “normal? throughout my adolescence. And although I am, by your definition, normal, I think that oppression extends beyond class, race and sexual orientation. I am not saying that these are not factors contributing to oppression but rather they are not the only ones. Within each category (ex. gay white man, straight black woman, ect.) we are given roles to play. We almost exist as a scripted society, every action and interaction predetermined. If one needs to know how to act in a given situation, just look at your assigned hand book. Being a straight white male I should play sports, be loud, and virile. Any deviation from the scripted life handed down to me from generations past is deemed different. Although I did play high school foot ball, which is “normal,? I often showed up to practice with paint on my clothes and a half complete piece of art, not “normal.? In a struggle to follow/discover my passions, I often deviate from the norms given to me. And with every step I take off the path I am scolded and oppressed by a society that sees me as “different.?

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