Internal and Attitudinal Dimensions of Privilege

Internal and Attitudinal Dimensions of Privilege

Imagine that you have lived your life in a small, gated community. You are surrounded by family and friends and overall live a happy and healthy


life. One day the gates open and you are told that you must venture out and make your way in the larger society. You are excited about the adventure that awaits you and all that you will see and discover.

On the way into the nearest city you stop at a café for lunch and notice people staring at you and whispering. A child points at your head while her mother shushes her, and another child begins to cry and hide behind his mother’s legs. Some people smile at you kindly and offer to help you sit down, while others turn away and ignore you. You ask for a menu and the waitress points it out on the wall behind you, and with an irritated sigh asks you if you need her to read it to you. You turn around and tell her no, you can see it just fine. When you turn your body, people look away in pity and disgust. As the waitress walks away, you notice that she has a third eye on the back of her head. You are shocked and quickly look around to realize that everyone in the café has an “extra” eye on the back of their heads. Feeling very uncomfortable, you rush through your meal and pay your check. When the waitress returns your change, you hold out your hand but she places it on the counter to avoid touching you.

As you enter the city, the same dynamics occur. Although you occasionally see other two-eyed people, they are usually in service positions, working with their heads down. You begin to feel shame and dread as throughout the day it becomes clear that the three-eyed people see you as abnormal and beneath them. A doctor approaches you and offers to “fix” you. He adds that although the technology to implant a third eye is expensive and dangerous, you might be a good candidate to participate in a university study he is directing on two-eyed people post-implants. You don’t want a third eye; you have done just fine throughout your life and are not interested in becoming “normal” in their terms. You try to explain this to the doctor, but he insists that you would find more social acceptance, which would help you have a better quality of life. “Don’t you want to be normal?” he asks. “We have the technology, why suffer unnecessarily?”

You quickly leave the doctor and enter a sunglass store in the mall. Three teenagers are having fun trying on a range of trendy styles. Although the extra lens at the back isn’t necessary for you, you can still wear them like everyone else does, wrapped fully around your head. You smile, excited by what you see, but as you pick up a stylish “trio,” a saleswoman approaches, takes the glasses out of your hand, and offers you a choice between two “modified trios” while gently patting your arm.

The modified glasses are bulky and unattractive and you don’t want them. The girls stop talking and watch your interaction with the saleswoman. You overhear one of them say, “Oh my god, can you imagine being born like that?” Then one of them calls out across the store, “What


happened to you?” At this point you have had enough, so you tell her that nothing happened to you and that she is being rude. Shocked, she replies, “Whatever. I was just asking.” And she says loudly to her friends, “Why are two-eyed people always so angry?” Her friends nod along in agreement. The saleswoman steps in and says, “Dear, maybe you should go,” as one of the teens snaps a picture of the back of your head with her phone, “oh my god this is going to be my costume this Halloween!” Frustrated and near tears, you walk out. The last thing you hear is the saleswoman say, “What on earth was she doing in here anyway?”

To avoid further interactions, you decide to take in a play at the theater, looking forward to the relief of sitting in the darkness. As you purchase your ticket an usher hands you a white cane and tells you that you need the cane to get to your seat. You realize that although you don’t actually need the cane, it does serve the purpose of alerting others to your difference. You sit down and try to read the program but it’s written in a way that assumes a third eye; folded in order to be visible simultaneously to you and the person sitting in front of you. As you fumble with trying to figure out the sequence of the text, a three-eyed person sitting next to you glances over and speaking very loudly and slowly asks, “Do you need help?” Feeling insulted, you ignore her.

The play starts and you realize that it is a biographic drama. It takes place in a special community much like the one you grew up in. But although you loved your neighborhood, it is clear that from the perspective of the three-eyed people it is a sad and depressing place. The main actor is depicting a character who has lost his third eye in a tragic accident. The play tells the story of his struggle to come to terms with his “disfigurement.” Once considered a handsome and talented young man with his life ahead of him, it is obvious to you that the three-eyed people now see him as ugly and his life as wasted. You begin to feel a sense of shame and sink lower in your seat, hoping others don’t notice you only have two eyes. You see that the main actor is actually a three-eyed person concealing his third eye (you later learn that this actor wins an award for his “courageous and inspiring” portrayal of a two-eyed person).

When the play ends, you feel very self-conscious about what the three- eyed people who are the majority of the audience might be thinking about you, and quickly exit the theater. You walk home with your head down, feeling ugly, and begin to wonder if you are losing your mind.

While there is no “three-eyed society” that enacts its privileges in this way, we use this imaginary scenario to illustrate many very real dynamics minoritized groups must navigate every day. These dynamics include both the structural and institutional dimensions discussed earlier, as well as

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