Dependable Erection

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Assuming privilege

The unconscious assumption of privilege is one of the most toxic elements in human interaction, whether in a personal relationship or in attempting to navigate the gulf between cultures. Carl Kenney, for example, documents a specific example of a class based assumption of privilege in a recent blog post that's worth reading.

Assumption of privilege is not limited, though, to racial, gender, or socio-economic based classes. I think on a daily basis we all encounter, and many of us hold ourselves, a perspective in which the automobile is privileged over virtually every other means of getting from point A to point B.

Nowhere is this more clear than in the comments of Gary's recent post about developments in the Alston Ave. widening discussion. Once upon a time, we used to have a word for the process by which an individual was brought to awareness of his or her assumptions of privilege. Consciousness-raising. You don't hear too often these days, but let's give it a go.

Here's the comment in question:
Alston Ave Commuter said...

So now you're negotiating on how many intersections can have right turn lanes?

If I was the NCDOT I'd say the hell with you, we've got plenty of projects in Raleigh, Charlotte and Greensboro to fund.

Obviously what you want is to tear up Alston and put in a bike path to take its place.

More power to you, I say. Maybe you should start by electing people to the city council who agree with you,

That's hard work, of course. It's easier to jot a few things into a blog everyday.

Let's start with the screen name chosen by the author, Alston Ave Commuter. By commuter, this person means that he or she rides in a car along Alston Ave., from point A to point B, from home to work and back again. And assumes that this vantage point should be more important in the decision making process than that of those people who, you know, actually live along Alston Ave. In other words, our commuter friend assumes the privilege of the commuter over the resident, and the primacy of his or her choices over those of others.

Strike one.

Next, the commenter makes the expert/power figure play, questioning why Gary, or anyone else, would have the audacity to "negotiate" with decisions made by the NCDOT regarding the actual structure of the widened Alston Ave. Again, the assumption here is that people such as Gary, or Aidil Collins, or anyone who questions NCDOT's program, lacks the standing to do so. They are not privileged enough to actually act on their opinions. And that the proper response to this not knowing your place is for the authority figure to take their ball and go play elsewhere, like Greensboro or Charlotte, where the citizens know their place and stay in it. The giveaway is the "Obviously what you want is to tear up Alston and put in a bike path to take its place," line. Not only is this not obvious, not only does this explicitly contradict what the commenter has just said (re: negotiating right turn lanes), not only does this fly in the face of what an reasonably intelligent person has just read on their own, but it also reveals the commenters animosity towards non-automobile transportation. Opposing bad design can only mean that you're one of those bike riding tree huggers, in the mind of our commenter.

Strike two.

Finally, the challenge. Go and elect your friends to the City Council. Betcha can't do that because it's too hard. Much harder than writing a blog post. Other commenters have already pointed out the hypocrisy in that it's so much easier to make a anonymous drive-by on someone else's blog than it is to research the issues and put your thoughts out their under your own name in a community the size of Durham. But as it stands, there are already members of City Council who agree with Gary's position, as well as significant and authoritative members of staff. And, based on the hard work that people like Aidil and Gary are doing, much of it behind the scenes, it's likely that a majority of Council will come to realize that East Durham indeed all of Durham, deserves a better design for a widened Alston Ave. than the one that NCDOT has come up with. Once we are conscious of the assumptions of privilege that those who argue in favor of the current design make on behalf of that small group of automobile users, and once we realize that they have no more claim on the benefits of road design than the residents of the neighborhood, there's literally nothing left in their argument that's persuasive.

Strike three.

Go grab some pine.

Labels: ,


  • Are you actually trying to say that people who regularly use that road but do not live in the neighborhood should have no input into the planning process?

    By Blogger Locomotive Breath, at 4:21 PM  

  • Since I can’t stand it when a blog post is left to read “1 comments”, I’ll weigh in (if only for the sake of a grammatically correct cause).

    Barry, you have to recognize that the inference-from-name that “Alston Ave. commuter” is a driver of an automobile is as much your inference as it may be the author’s implication. If this debate focused on Main Street, and for some reason I were to weigh in behind an anonymous moniker, I would not hesitate to call myself a “Main St. commuter” despite the fact that I haven’t commuted by personal automobile in more than two years. Cyclists, as I infer you to be implying, are also commuters.


    I’m not sure why you link your inference that the Alston Ave. commuter/commenter is a driver with your point about privileging commuters’ interests over residents’ interests. The commenter’s expression of privilege (privileging commuters’ interests) is independent of his/her mode of transportation, right? Your point is just that he/she seems to discount the interests of people who live in the community in favor of someone who uses these streets for, may we assume, conduits to capitalism.

    Off sides.

    I bet I could make a rational argument for actually tearing up Alston Avenue and replacing it with a bike path -- a bike path that shares space with a bus-only corridor, next to a commuter train path. Just give me time. Time enough to let oil hit $500 a barrel. But perhaps I’m reaching too far.


    And what does the last strike have to do with privilege?


    I gotta work on my sports analogies.

    By Blogger nicomachus, at 10:38 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home