THE BLOG

When Is It Bad to Seek Attention?

03/27/2015 04:47 pm ET | Updated May 27, 2015

How do we differentiate between the outspoken privileged and unprivileged, denoting attention-seeking from speaking out, or ego from a voice? A few nights ago, a friend told me, "Why do you always talk about what you've accomplished? It seems like you think you're better than all of us." The funny thing is, when the same remarks are made through a valid space, like a published article, they suddenly become respected.

The other day, I met a man, who's a well-known activist and boasts about his accomplishments. Nobody remarks about how he's bragging. We all talk about his amazing accomplishments -- all of the wonderful things he's done. He's from a well-off background and arguably remains extremely well-off. His accomplishments are legitimized by his privilege, by the fact that his attention-seeking exists in a space we recognize as valid.

We play into the power dynamics of a culture that seeks to keep people in their respective positions. In circles of privilege, we don't see accomplishments, or talking about them, as egoist, rather we show respect. Yet, in spaces where privilege lacks, our accomplishments are viewed as attention-seeking. We know not to make our selves seem "better than others," and we know not to talk too much about our struggles or our accomplishments.

Most of us are called attention-seeking at some point, and it's usually a way to silence or delegitimize. We silence and delegitimize those who are oppressed -- those we want to stay in their place. Often, its done subconsciously, but just as, if not more, often it's done with purpose. We want the women to stop being so sexual. We want the gays to stop shoving our faces into their lifestyle. We want people of color to stop talking about discrimination or their feelings. We want the poor to stop complaining and work harder.

Power, and its corresponding structures, play a role in the way we act, the way we speak, even when we lack the realization of its existence. We remain unaware of how our promotion of certain successes and punishment of others reinforce oppressive structures. The next time we want to call someone attention-seeking, we should think about the reasons why.