Their new haircut or hairdo doesn’t need much work. A few tussles and … there, good. Now there’s the outfit they have picked out — a nice suit, a dress, a kilt. Whatever it is, to them it’s the regalia of someone who is very much alive. Wearing these clothes, they walk purposefully around their house, their room, or if they’re lucky, their neighborhood — if only the porch — and there, they wait.
A certain level of privilege naturally makes treating mental illness easier, in access to care, medication and the way one is treated generally. Privilege is the result of a combination of appearance and class, with appearance foremost in how these are intertwined when it comes to the reception one gets just walking around. For people doing this, people whose clothes are disheveled, who lack an awareness of exact social cues as they just try to run an errand or just aimlessly exist, most people have little to no warmth.
Ironically enough, with the right appearance, clothes and jerk-like demeanor, someone who’s barreling down the street may not exactly be welcomed; but he or she could be respected.
For the mentally ill or someone lacking in luck, however, just walking down the street with a lack of uniform appearance can be a supreme disadvantage. People can’t control nervous ticks for, instance, or other things that are not typical about the way they look. We tend to expect a very uniform demeanor in a human being – generally mildly pleasant or busily zombie-like, wrapped up in a region’s (or, non-religiously, a legion’s) proper or ideal fashions.
This, of course, is not a universal thesis. Depending on the perceived appearance of someone who is unfortunate, some strangers may have a bit more empathy for him or her; and there are certainly always a few people who, even in what are considered the hardest of places, have empathy for anyone who’s down on their luck. But generally, a lack of uniformity makes for someone who’s not quite equally human – even in something as quintessentially human as walking along with many others and being the one person who trips. In that particular group, unless the reception the person who trips usually gets is based upon their being quite good at their uniform mode, he or she becomes fuel for others in that prevailing mode who’d like someone else to feel superior to.
The privilege of appearance, I think, is perhaps most beneficial on the level of dealing with power structures, in that someone who’s white and doesn’t appear overtly disabled (mentally or physically) has a much better chance of their messiness not being dealt with via a possibly fatal, heavily militaristic response. It may strange to posit that not being squashed like a bug for acting a bit off-kilter can be the most beneficial aspect of privilege – simply not having one’s life callously taken – but it is, and yet, what’s a life within that spectrum?
However dystopian it may seem, it may be the one more people have than not.
Society respects privileged uniformity; and in that arena at its most feudal, who else prevails but the one who looks at the person who is disheveled and screams their “superiority”? Superior to the person who trips, superior to the person who’s supposed to be less than human – an example for those who walk on any street where those who appear to be less fortunate are shunned.
Even critical thinking about a broader empathy can be feudal. When done among the comfort of homes tailored to privilege, such discourse is propped up by a uniformity that is thoroughly cynical. It needs to be more than the unfortunate rather than be walking on the very same streets as someone who is sloppily, unfashionably dressed, or has that nervous tick, or is non-uniformly strong in a land of toughness.