Privilege is defined as “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.” (Source: Dictionary.com)
I’ve noticed that some caucasian people tend to get defensive when you start talking about their privilege. Most of the time they don’t recognize that they have privilege. Most also confuse wealth with privilege. But , as the definition above indicates, privilege is rooted in your automatically receiving special treatment, rather than the amount of money you have, that determines your privilege. It is the “special right” that you inherit through your race that essentially makes you immune to injustices and biases experienced by people of color.
Unfortunately, privilege is a silent accelerant fuelling the fire fires of racism and hatred. The privileged will say that people of color are afforded the same opportunities as they are. The privileged generally conclude that path to these opportunities has the same obstacles for all. The privileged will make assumptions about the minorities character, history, and work ethic. However, what the privileged may fail to realize, there are systemic issues that put obstacles in the path of POC, that don’t exist for caucasian’s; all paths are not created equal. To reach the same opportunity as a person with privilege, a person without privilege will need to overcome additional obstacles that just don’t exist for people in a privileged group. This is hard to believe for those with privilege, and that’s part of the problem.
A person with less privilege might see unjust practices and understand that the opportunities are there, but they’ll need to work harder to reach the goal. They also might conclude that their path is designed for failure, and some will even quit before they even start. Some will try and take an easy way out because they don’t have the endurance needed to finish the race. While, some will stay the course, and endure to make it to that goal, many are still left with a bitter resentment towards the privileged for these unnecessary barriers and privileged people’s lack of empathy.
So, now let me tell you about a personal experience. When I was a junior high my mother moved us to the suburbs. I was the only black student in my class, and one of the extremely few students of color in my entire school. One day in class a student’s wallet went missing, and the teacher asked the class if anyone had seen it.
They let all the other (white) students leave the class but guess who had to stay? Yeah, me. They proceeded to ask me over and over again if I had the student’s wallet. I continued to affirm my innocence, but they didn’t believe me. They went as far to check all my belongings and “pat” me down. This was a traumatic experience for me as a 12 year old that I will obviously never forget.
Do you think that the other children were given the benefit of the doubt because of the color of their skin? Or is it because the teacher had a bias against black people, and automatically determined that I must be the guilty party?
Either way, the other students’ privilege was manifest in their being able to leave without needing to prove their innocence.
I could have used this experience as an excuse to blame the entire white race. I could have held this hurt, this pain, in my heart and passed it on to my children. Thankfully, I chose to believe that the ignorance of a few does not represent the intelligence, or competence, of the entire race.
Checking Your Privilege
Sam Dylan Finch, writing at Everyday Feminism, defines checking one’s privilege as reflecting “on the ways that your social status might have given you an advantage — even if you didn’t ask for it or earn it.”
I love the way that Sam states it. If you have privilege, it’s not that you have asked for it or even earned it. It’s that you have it by default; that in most respects you have simply inherited your advantage. I’m not saying this to try and shame you. I am, however, trying to get those who have privilege to use their privilege, or as I like to say “superpower,” to help those who do not share the same privilege. So, look for opportunities to include POC into the conversation, Always have diversity and inclusion top of mind. If you see these biases happening speak up and reach out. My good friend Mary Scotton has some excellent tips for the privileged to use their superpowers in her blog on What Can White Dudes Do?
Do you have privilege? Ask yourself:
- What sorts of things do I take for granted as a member of a privileged group?
- How are my experiences different from those of a disadvantaged group?
- Why do these differences matter? What do they look like in the real world?
Katherine Kirkinis and Sarah Birdsong note that “it is your obligation and responsibility to develop awareness of the ways in which you benefit”; this is true for every sort of privilege.