Pokemon, Privilege, and Other People’s Problems

if you’re on social media (of course you’re on social media) you have no doubt seen the convergence of the two streams of news the past 72 hours. One, of course, is the week’s long plunge back into the national debate on police violence, Black Lives Matter, and America’s love/hate relationship with violence. The other is Pokemon Go, the mobile game being heralded as a game changer and as the best game ever (one hopes by people who have limited experience with games).

The coming together of these two is not of the peanut butter and chocolate variety, but rather more like toothpaste and pickle juice in that I’ve noticed it leaves a bad taste in a lot of peoples’ mouths. Specifically there are numerous posts floating around to the effect of  (paraphrasing here since I don’t want to call anyone in particular out) “Pokemon Go is awesome and it’s awesome to see posts from people just having fun and not worrying about the bad stuff that’s happening in the world.”

And here’s the thing, I’m happy you’re happy about a game. And the people who are calling you out about these posts are probably happy that you’re happy about a game. The problem that some people are having is that rooting your happiness in being able to deny other peoples’ pain and suffering can be seen as a lousy thing to do. And this is where we get to talk about privilege.

I can see some of your eyes rolling already, because that’s the reaction I get in classes these days whenever I utter the dread word ‘privilege’. Part of that is because people don’t really understand it very well, part of it is because discussion of privilege have a way of making some people feel really uncomfortable. And that’s ok, they should on some level.

Because when we’re talking about privilege what we’re talking about is the ability and opportunity that some people have to ignore things that may be a problem for other people. Privilege is problematic in several ways, but most noticeably when people who have it refuse to recognize when they are flaunting it in front of people who don’t.

This is where my students usually get grumpy, because they feel bad about enjoying the things they like. And that bad feeling is the recognition that you could be doing something else, something to make a problem better maybe, and instead you’re playing a game, or watching Game of Thrones, or buying cheap shit at Ikea (I’m not judging!)

Basically, it’s nice that you are in a position to just tune out news that doesn’t immediately affect you, that can be ok. Even if you care deeply about the world and the problems in it sometimes you need to take a break. What is problematic is grounding your enjoyment of that position, of your privilege, in the fact that other people are not, or cannot be in the same position. You’re calling attention to your ability to not be affected by the problem they are being affected by by directly referencing your ability to ignore their lousy situation. And that pisses some people off. And they sometimes call you out on that. And that is also ok.

Basically the key is to recognize your privilege and think about how you choose to manifest it. Particularly online we have a tendency to share the inane mundanities of our lives. But when you’re sharing them consider if you’re doing so in a way that draws direct attention to your ability to do so in the face of others’ inability to do so. Basically think before posting, and don’t be an asshole.




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