#TeachingTuesday: Privilege is Structural

This link will take you to a YouTube video of Kacy Catanzaro at the 2014 Dallas Qualifiers for American Ninja Warrior. If you don’t know about American Ninja Warrior then get your life right.

I’ll wait.

Okay, now that you’ve binged the glory that is American Ninja Warrior we can talk.

Kacy Catanzaro, also known as Mighty Kacy, wasn’t the first woman to compete on ANJ but she was the first to finish a qualifying course. Since then, Kacy has become a regular on the show and a fan favorite. Kacy has also continued to make ANW history. In fact, here’s another video of Mighty Kacy becoming the first female contestant to qualify for ANW finals.

I love these videos. I love them because I love the Ninja Warrior franchise and I love them because it’s great to see Kacy do her thing, but mostly I love them because the people in the videos are so damn happy. The narrators are cheering Kacy on and the fans love her.

That’s exactly why I use these videos to talk to my classes about privilege as a structure. When you watch these videos it’s clear that no one bears Kacy any personal ill will. The fans, the narrators, and the other athletes glory in her success. What makes these clips unique is that the narrators openly talk about how the course is not built for a body like Kacy’s. The course is built for, roughly, a masculine body that is over six foot tall and mostly muscle. You hear the narrators talk about things like wingspan, reach, jump, and weight as designed for that masculine body rather than a body like Kacy’s.

That’s privilege.

Structures are designed so that certain bodies/figures/minds/genders/sexes/sexualities/ages/races move easily through the course while other bodies have to work much harder or can’t move through the course at all.

It’s not that Kacy can’t move through the course at all. Rather, she must train differently and certain obstacles are much harder for her body than for the bodies of other contestants. At the same time, there are certain obstacles designed to be challenging for other bodies that pose a smaller obstacle to Kacy (see video 1 where the narrators discuss examples of both of these things). That doesn’t mean that the system is fair. That means that the system is inconsistent but overall favors a certain type of body.

That’s privilege.

Thus, when I say in class that we live in a white supremacist society I am talking about structural privilege rather than individual interactions. White privilege does not mean that a white person doesn’t work for what they get, but it does mean that they don’t have to work as hard as a non-white person. White supremacy enforcing white privilege doesn’t mean all white people think they are inherently better than all non-white people but it means that even the “good” white people may be unaware of the challenges faced by their friends, lovers, and colleagues of color.

To check one’s privilege is to listen, and accept as real, stories of how other people move through the course.

Ultimately, it’s not enough to cheer someone on when they conquer a course designed to exclude or delay them. Instead, we must rebuild the course altogether.

I’d love to hear what texts you use to help students understand privilege.

Come back next week to compare to versions of “I Kissed A Girl.”

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