Somewhere, someone just cringed.
No one likes hearing, directly or implied, that they have privilege. We don’t like hearing that our race, age, gender, sexuality, religion, or other factor we have no control over, somehow gives us an unfair advantage.
“Privilege” brings to mind partying frat boys. People who have had everything handed to them on a silver platter, possibly with a side of Beluga caviar.
We think, “Well, that’s not us! That couldn’t possibly refer to us!”
Or, we defensively rattle off the ways in which we’re disadvantaged. We grew up poor. We didn’t go to college. Our parents had issues. We have issues.
Unfortunately, none of these factors eliminates the pervasive influence of privilege. Where we might be deficit in some way, – say, economically or by a lack of higher education – we still have privileges to which we could easily remain blissfully blind.
To be conscious of our privilege, we have to be made aware of how oppression – the unfortunate flip side to privilege – plays out in other people’s day-to-day lives. To do that, someone has to point out our privilege to us.
I’ll give you an anecdote from my life, because I know this concept can be hard to understand without an example.
I once posted to Facebook that I drive like there’s a cop behind me. I was using this to describe how carefully & safely I try to drive.
A friend, a female person of color, commented that driving with a cop behind her – real or imaginary – made her incredibly anxious. It was her experience that, when the police were behind her, they were going to pull her over.
I was floored. I hadn’t thought of that, because, as a white woman, I don’t get racially profiled every time I drive to the supermarket.
She called me out on my privilege, &, to be honest, I couldn’t be more thankful for it. It gave me the opportunity to see things from a perspective that privilege’s insidious nature covered up. I stopped, took a breath, recognized that her lived reality was different from mine, & that what I had said was hurtful in ways I hadn’t intended.
She called me out on my privilege & I appreciate her more than I can express for doing it.
Being told that we have privilege stings. I know it does. However, people call us on it to say there’s a problem with society, from which we’re – through no fault, attempt, or even consciousness on our part – benefiting & under which they’re suffering.
They’re saying that what we’ve said or done has hurt them because it highlights ways they’re treated differently, they’re treated poorly, by society. You don’t mean it that way, because you don’t see that side of it. Our privilege shields us until someone tells us how it is.
What we do with that information after it’s brought to light… that’s under our control. What will you do with your privilege: ignore it, deny it, or fight against it being used to hurt others? Those are your choices. Do the right thing.