Situation

In the political philosophy course I taught, last semester, one of the books I had the students work through was Iris Marion Young’s Inclusion and Democracy.

It’s fair to say that most of my students are male, and most of those are white, English-speaking, native-born Americans.

Many of the white guys had some difficulty grasping what Young was saying about social structure, the ways in which people may be situated differently within that structure, and the difference situation makes in life prospects and in opportunities to participate in political processes.

At one point, I said to some of them, partly out of exasperation:

The basic problem is that white guys like us are so well situated that we don’t even know we’re situated.

Some of them may have begun to understand, but I’m not sure any of them were fully convinced of it.

In saying it, I began to understand it better myself: one of the most basic and insidious privileges of the well situated is that we can be oblivious to our own privilege, oblivious to the very idea that one can be situated or that the ease with which we move through the world is the product of anything other than our own freedom and our own effort.

(As an odd side note, at least a handful of my students referred to Young as “he” in their distillation exercises. Hmm.)

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