When You’re Accustomed to Privilege, Equality Feels Like Oppression

Stephanie Herrera? Chris Boeskool? Mike Jebbett? Jesse Alan Downs? Brian Sims? Clay Shirky? Anonymous?

balance08Dear Quote Investigator: Activists have formulated an adage about privilege that has achieved wide distribution:

When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression

Would you please examine its provenance?

Quote Investigator: This thought can be expressed in many ways; hence, it has been difficult to trace. The earliest close match located by QI appeared in December 2010 on the website: “Are Women Human?: Debunking gender myths”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I’ve seen a quote, something like “To the privileged, equality feels like oppression.”

This instance was more concise than the modern version. It was written by a commentator using the handle “Faith”, but she disclaimed authorship by using the phrase “I’ve seen the quote”. Hence, the expression was already in circulation. Indeed, the existence of precursors occurring by 1997 suggests that the statement evolved over time.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1997 a message posted by Mike Jebbett to the Usenet discussion newsgroup bc.general contained a statement that partially matched the adage. In the following excerpt “women” were viewed as “living on the high side”, i.e., living in a privileged manner. Brackets were in the original text: 2

Women like her are suffering from a condition I call “Advanced Pedestalism”. Which basically means that they [women] have been living on the high side for so long, equality looks like oppression.

Thanks to linguist and Wall Street Journal columnist Ben Zimmer who explored this topic and kindly shared his results with QI. Zimmer located the intriguing citation given above and other valuable information.

In January 2003 “Nan” posted a message to the Usenet newsgroup nashville.general that contained another partial match. In this excerpt “the majority” were depicted as a privileged group. The spacing of the parentheses reflects the original message text: 3

As far as public religion, though some Christians feel themselves to be persecuted, they’re not being asked to do any more than most non-Christian groups have been doing all along.

A (loosely paraphrased )quote from an article about a slightly different topic: “When you’ve been in the majority for a long time, equality can feel like oppression.”

In December 2003 “Roger” posted a message containing a partial match to several newsgroups including talk.politics.misc: 4

Equality feels like oppression when you run things.
Justice is on the increase.
Get used to it.

In September 2010 the twitter handle ‏@sexgenderbody tweeted this precursor: 5

“to the privileged, equality feels like discrimination” – overheard just now on #kinkontap. join us at kinkontap.com

In October 2010 Jesse Alan Downs writing on the eponymous blog “Jesse Downs” used a precursor within an article titled “Do As I Say, Not As I Do…”: 6

To the privileged, equality can feel like a loss. Over time I have come to the idea that independence requires equality and, therefore, a sense of loss for many.

In December 2010 a commentator on the website: “Are Women Human?: Debunking gender myths” employed a compact instance of the adage as noted previously in this article. This was the first close match found by QI:

They accuse people of not really being Christians, of being liberal (like that’s a sin), and of course they cry “persecution!” I’ve seen a quote, something like “To the privileged, equality feels like oppression.”

In February 2012 Stephanie Herrera (twitter handle @KhaleesiAtHeart) tweeted a very close match to the modern saying under investigation: 7

When you are accustomed to privilege, equality can feel like oppression.

In January 2013 a tweet mentioned the compact instance of the adage from December 2010. This twitter account is now protected and not readable by the general public: 8

“To the privileged, equality feels like oppression.”
-A comment on @graceishuman ‘s blog.

In September 2015 a Tumblr called “Bialogue” ascribed the statement to a Pennsylvanian politician: 9

When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression

Brian Sims, Member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives representing Center City Philadelphia’s 182nd District. A Democrat, in 2012 Sims became the first openly LGBT person elected to the General Assembly in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s 237 year history.

In March 2016 the blogger Chris Boeskool posted an essay at “The Boeskool: Jesus, Politics, and Bathroom Humor” recounted an anecdote about a fellow waiter who thoughtlessly demanded that others step aside to let him pass when he was walking. Boeskool concluded the tale by invoking the unattributed adage. 10 The essay achieved wider distribution when it was reprinted on “The Huffington Post”: 11

And so, I recently thought about this story again after I had just read this amazing quote (a quote for which I tried very hard to find an attribution, but kept coming up “Unknown):

“When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”

In July 2016 the influential writer and teacher Clay Shirky tweeted the saying: 12

“When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”

In conclusion, this article represents a snapshot of current research. The saying evolved over a period of years, and the coiner of the popular modern version is currently unknown. Faith, Stephanie Herrera, Chris Boeskool, Clay Shirky and others helped to popularize the expression.

Warning: Some of the dates in this article are from personal websites. These websites can be modified retroactively; hence, these types of dates are not completely reliable. Examine the bibliographical notes and accompanying links to learn more about each date in this article. Twitter dates and Usenet dates have greater certainty.

Image Notes: Illustration of one figure helping another to ascend from Peggy_Marco at Pixabay. Graphic depicting an unbalanced scale from OpenClipart-Vectors at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to Colin Stokes, William Crawley, A K M Adam, James Callan, James Gunter, Ben Zimmer, and Don whose inquiries led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Also thanks to Ben Zimmer and Barry Popik for their research on this topic.)

Notes:

  1. Website: Are Women Human?, Article: Fred Phelps and conservative Christians: Not so different, Comment Author: Faith, Comment Timestamp on Website: December 25, 2010 at 1:32 am, link, Wayback Machine Verified Mirror Date: Mar 23 201. link (Accessed at arewomenhuman.me on Oct 24, 2016) link
  2. 1997 December 17, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: bc.general, From: Mike Jebbett @p1.f47.n340.z1.fidonet.org, Subject: A Note On Violence, and Amero’s Hatred Of Males. (Google Groups Search; Accessed Oct 23, 2016) link
  3. 2003 January 17, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: nashville.general, From: nblomgren (Nan) @mindspring.com, Subject: Re: Scalia Complains on Church-State Rulings. (Google Groups Search; Accessed Oct 24, 2016) link
  4. 2003 December 26, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroups: alt.fan.rush-limbaugh, alt.politics.usa.republican, alt.politics.democrats.d, talk.politics.misc, alt.politics.bush, nyc.general, dfw.general, From: “Roger” @hotmail.com, Subject: Re: Dear Christians: Your Curtain Call Has Come. (Google Groups Search; Accessed Oct 24, 2016)
  5. Tweet, From: sexgenderbody ‏@sexgenderbody, Time: 9:10 PM, Date: September 26, 2010, Text: “to the privileged, equality feels like discrimination” – overheard just now on #kinkontap. join us at kinkontap.com. (Accessed on twitter.com on October 24, 2016) link
  6. Website: Jesse Downs, Article: Do As I Say, Not As I Do…, Author: Jesse Alan Downs, Timestamp on website: Oct 8, 2010, 2:57 PM (updated Oct 12, 2010, 1:50 PM), link, Wayback Machine has only a very recent mirror from March 24, 2016, link (Accessed at sites.google.com on Oct 24, 2016) link
  7. Tweet, From: Stephanie Herrera @KhaleesiAtHeart, Time: 2:50 AM, Date: February 29, 2012, Text: When you are accustomed to privilege, equality can feel like oppression. (Accessed on twitter.com on October 24, 2016) link
  8. Tweet, From: tone @Ms_tones, Date: January 10, 2013, Text: “To the privileged, equality feels like oppression.” -A comment on @graceishuman ‘s blog. (Accessed on twitter.com on March 24, 2016)
  9. Website: Bialogue: Bisexual + Queer Politics, Article title: When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression, Timestamp on website: September 28, 2015 5:19 pm, Website description: Bialogue is an activist/political social justice group working. (Accessed bialogue-group.tumblr.com on October 25, 2016) link
  10. Website: The Boeskool: Jesus, Politics, and Bathroom Humor, Article title: When You’re Accustomed To Privilege, Equality Feels Like Oppression, Article author: Chris Boeskool, Date on website: March 5, 2016, Website description: Blog with opinion pieces by Chris Boeskool. (Accessed theboeskool.com on October 23, 2016) link
  11. Website: The Huffington Post, Article title: ‘When You’re Accustomed to Privilege, Equality Feels Like Oppression’, Article author: Chris Boeskool, Date on website: March 14, 2016 (Updated July 14, 2016), Website description: News, blogs and original content offering coverage of US politics, entertainment, style, world news, technology and comedy. (Accessed huffingtonpost.com on October 23, 2016) link
  12. Tweet, From: Clay Shirky @cshirky, Time: 4:13 PM, Date: July 22, 2016, Text: “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” (Accessed on twitter.com on October 24, 2016) link