This concept has gotten a lot of attention lately and sparked many conversations after a college freshman wrote this piece about being told to “check his privilege.” I think privilege, much like feminism, is a word misunderstood and tossed around in the wrong context. So here’s just a little taste of what I think about it.
When people speak of privilege, they do not mean “without hardship”. The idea of privilege refers to the favor people have when it comes to certain aspects of life and these people are often ignorant to that favor. People often don’t understand their own privilege because discrimination is not a consistent part of their experience. For instance, I can only speak of racism to a degree because I am white. My privilege, white privilege, forbids me from fully realizing the affects of racism. I can understand the concept of it and do everything in my power to fight it, but I’m not going to pretend that I realize it in a way that a minority does. I am ignorant to certain aspects of racism because of privilege. And my race is obviously something that I am born with, so privilege does not have to do only with circumstances that can change over time.
What people often fail to realize is that racism and sexism are institutionalized. They are systematic. Now, a white man can come from a poor family and work his ass off everyday to make a living. No one is saying that they don’t experience pain or hardships. But there are certain aspects of their lives that don’t become worrisome because of their race and gender – aspects that they are often ignorant to because it is not of their experience. And I don’t think it’s a matter of apologizing for that, but admitting it. To say that you don’t have privilege as a white male in this country is kind of stupid if you ask me. And if you don’t feel bad or guilty about that, that is your choice, but at the very least you should acknowledge it. At the same time, I don’t think a person’s opinions should be discounted simply because of their race or gender being considered “superior.” But in terms of value of opinion, I think a person with experience has value over a “spectator,” for lack of a better word, in any situation, not just race-related.
Basically the point behind privilege is that a person often doesn’t realize the struggles others have gone through in a situation that worked out well for them or came easy to them because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. We are ignorant to our own privilege. That is why it is a hard concept to fully realize and why the author of the piece I linked to above probably feels like he has never been handed anything and that privilege hasn’t affected his life.
And while we are talking about race, let me take this opportunity to spiral into another major misconception that kind of goes hand in hand with this: the phrase “I don’t see color.” I heard someone say once, and I think it was @chescaleigh (who is one of the most awesome people ever, you should subscribe and follow her everywhere), that saying “I don’t see color” is basically saying “I like you in spite of.” You should see color. In fact, you need to see color. Race is an essential part of a person. It shapes their experiences and attitudes. We need to be appreciating and accepting each other’s differences, not pretending they don’t exist. And another major problem with not seeing race or talking about race is that you then don’t understand where privilege comes in. Trust me when I say you are not contributing to the end of racism by being colorblind.
If you’d like to hear these concepts talked about more brilliantly and from a source far more qualified than myself, watch @chescaleigh’s most recent video, which I posted below. Did I mention how awesome she is? Anyway, I hope people reading this really think about how they approach race and these other issues. We need to be having more significant conversations about these things, so don’t cop out or shy away from them!