I will never understand why the concept of privilege is so offensive to so many people. Mostly, let it be said, privileged people. It is beyond me why it frightens people to look at the privilege in their life & say yes, that has helped me and no, I did nothing to earn that aid. ‘Owning your privilege’ is merely acknowledging your good fortune. Privilege does not make you bad a person. However, refusing to countenance it’s existence makes you a bit of a dick. Since no one wants to be one of those, let’s go through this together.
If you belong to a group who hold power in society, you have privilege. If you belong to a group that is considered the default in society, you too have privilege. The fact that you do not face institutionalised discrimination just for being who you are is a huge advantage. Being born white, straight, cis, able bodied are all privileges. You will not face prejudice or disadvantages for merely existing in your body. Life is not a level playing field; some of us are sprinting before the starter’s pistol sounds.
Part of this kind of privilege is the fact that you did nothing to earn your advantage. Thus, many people will rail against the notion that they should have to apologise for holding it. Well, no one is asking you to. You are not responsible for the fact that you are white or male or cis gendered. No one is critising you for being any of these (or any other privileged) things. The problem comes when you refuse to own the benefits you have gained from life’s lottery. When some people have to struggle just to reach the starting line, ignoring that becomes offensive. We do not choose what privilege we come into this world with, but we do choose what we do with it. Acknowledge the factors beyond your control that eased your path. Then use your position to clear space for those without your advantages.
Some of you may be thinking I have one of those privileges you speak of & my life is hard, so I don’t feel ahead of the game. Privilege is not a guarantee of fabulous life. You could be a straight, white, cis, able bodied man & still have terrible things happen to you. The privilege comes in the fact that they did not happen because you were straight or white or cis or able bodied or male. No matter your situation the abscence of the barriers that come with being a minority are still always advantageous.
It’s also important to remember that it is possible to have privilege in one area & none in another. For example I am white, from a comfortable back ground, well educated, cis gendered & straight passing. I am fully of aware of the advantages my parents have given me and of the discrimination I have never had to face. I hold a lot of privilege. However, I am also disabled, I’m female & I’m fat; all of which incur significant hardships. My daily life is a slog. I do face discrimination & I am discredited, but I’m still lapping my trans, BAME, LGBTQ, impoverished (& so many more) brothers & sisters in the race of life.
So, privilege isn’t always cut & dry. It does not translate to a perfect life. Nevertheless, it’s a head start. It is a whole bunch of problems you’ll never have to even consider. Privilege is being able to dismiss that the premise is even real.
In keeping with my entreaty that you use whatever privilege you have to help dismantle the current societal hegemony I would encourage to read these voices on the topic.
Lori Lakin Hutcherson
Strong in broken places
Taking up too much space
That crazy crippled chick
The Second City