Privilege 101: Do you have it? Is it bad?

This is a notoriously tricky subject but I’m gonna go there anyway because the concept of social privilege is something that is still vastly misunderstood and yet it underpins a lot of what I write on here. When someone tells you that you have privilege your knee-jerk reaction is to be offended, to want to tell the accuser that you have had as much suffering in your life as the next person and that you’ve worked hard for what you have. You might assume that being told you have white privilege, straight privilege, male privilege, cis privilege or able privilege implies that you have an easy life because of those things. I can see where the slow burn of anger and confusion begins to ignite because I used to feel that too, I used to want to tell people that just because I’m white passing doesn’t mean I’ve never faced persecution or prejudice, just because I’m cis doesn’t mean I’ve not experienced cruelty based on sexuality and gender, just because I’m not in a wheelchair doesn’t mean I’ve had an easy life! But later came the understanding of privilege that made me want to eat my words.

It is a privilege not to  worry about whether or not you will get a job based on your disability.

It is a privilege not to have to fear the law because of your skin colour.

It is a privilege not to be more at risk of sexual assault, rape and violence because of your gender.

It is a privilege to be able to open and magazine or watch a film and see lots of people just like you.

It is a privilege to be accepted.

I’ll use race as an example. This is white privilege; the option to not experience institutionalised, deeply ingrained societal racism is something that people of colour simply do not have access to. Racism isn’t always violent or loud or obvious, racism can be a silent killer that sneaks up on us. Racism is what makes us fear darker skinned people more than those with white skin, it’s the very same thing that has resulted in “accidental” deaths at the hands of those entrusted to protect us. This sort of deep seated fear and pattern of fear-violence-fear can only be broken by becoming more aware of the ways that white and white passing people are benefitting from our privilege and how can we make it right. There are countless arguments and examples that can be applied to lgbt/disabled/female folk, you’d be surprised at the amount of concerns that you simply don’t face simply by being straight, white, cis, male and able bodied.

meme-male-white-privilege

It’s always going to be uncomfortable to admit that you, probably an open-minded progressive person who is an avid supporter of equality, has a luxury that many of those you love and care about cannot share. Just because you don’t want your privilege doesn’t mean it’s not there and that the world won’t treat you differently to your poc/trans/disabled counterparts regardless. It’s awkward, believe me I get it. You’d rather not talk about it and just ignore it. But ignoring the issues surrounding privilege is what has allowed  the vast disadvantages of being a minority group to silently grow.

So how do we fix it? Admitting is the first step and it’s better to come right out and say it: I have privilege where others do not. We can all help by being a little more sensitive in our discussions about race, gender, disability and transgender, remember that your individual experiences and view of the world have been shaped by the way the world has treated you (even if that’s not saying a lot, you can guarantee that if you’re a part of the majority you have still had it better than those in the minority). Others probably have an entirely different view, do not attempt to derail them with micro aggressions or by countering using your own experience because the two can’t really be compared where one has been a victim of racism (or any other negative ism or phobia) and the other has not. As a person with privilege your voice is inadvertently  louder than the voices of your counterparts so you should use this for good, always.

In short:

  • Privilege does not mean you have an easy life
  • Privilege does not exclude you from discussions about equality and prejudice
  • Privilege is simply the omission from negative experiences that poc/disabled/female/trans people live through daily.
  • Having privilege isn’t your choice, don’t feel bad just use it for good rather than to erase the experiences of others.
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