Ian Rolls, Privilege In Conversation

“‘Why not develop a certain degree of rage against the history that has written such an abject script for you that you are silenced?’ Then you begin to investigate what it is that silences you, rather than take this very deterministic position— since my skin colour is this, since my sex is this, I cannot speak… From this position, then, I say you will of course not speak in the same way about the Third World material, but if you make it your task not only to learn what is going on there through language, through specific programs of study, but also at the same time through a historical critique of your position as the investigating person, then you will see that you have earned the right to criticize, and you be heard” (Spivak, Questions of Multiculturalism, pg 62).

I chose Spivak’s passage on speaking as a person with privilege because as someone who has experienced the feeling that their input doesn’t matter because of their race, gender identity, or class I was confused why Spivak argues the refusal to speak is due to a lack of education. This passage, however, makes more sense in the context of Spivak’s argument that marginalized groups should not be left alone to advocate for themselves, because the problem cannot be solved only through self-representation. Self-representation and the demand for “authentic voices” (63) becomes a problem because those who are deemed authentic enough by society/academia/media can become tokenized and used to further inaction instead of solving issues. I started to understand why Spivak encourages people in positions of privilege to speak up because the duty to speak should not be only left to minorities, and that by educating ourselves and critiquing our positions as people of privilege, we obtain a viewpoint that is productive to bringing about change. I think this passage is fantastic at addressing the questions: what should people in the dominant group to help minorities, and how can people in positions of power offer productive discourse and ideas in the face of privilege?

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