Isn’t it weird that a privilege could feel like a chore?
Personal failure: I refused to acknowledge or consider my own privilege for a loooooooong time.
I suppose a definition will be helpful here. I’ll go with this one:
the set of societal privileges that white/male people benefit from beyond those commonly experienced by people of color/women in the same social, political, or economic spaces (nation, community, workplace, income, etc.). The term denotes both obvious and less obvious unspoken advantages that white/male individuals may not recognize they have, which distinguishes it from overt bias or prejudice. These include cultural affirmations of one’s own worth; presumed greater social status; and freedom to move, buy, work, play, and speak freely. The concept of privilege also implies the right to assume the universality of one’s own experiences, marking others as different or exceptional while perceiving oneself as normal.
What led me to examine these privileges? Being taken behind the proverbial woodshed in online and meatspace conversations. I’d like to thank not only the people that patiently pointed out my ignorance and took the time to educate me, but also the people that rightfully mocked me. The mockery stung but I (eventually) saw that even though I intended to be a good person I was choosing to ignore something important.
Once I admitted that these privileges existed I needed to take the next step and ask myself why I chose to ignore them. This was a difficult step. I relied on my perception that “things are much better than they used to be” to justify my choice to ignore the systemic structural and cultural issues that exist today. I pretended that today represented a true meritocracy and that women, people of color, etc. had zero impediments to success other than their own desires and efforts.
Many people believe they are “colorblind” and I don’t doubt their belief. But even if it’s true, it’s only a partial victory. Stephen Colbert has a great line about this:
Now, I don’t see color. People tell me I’m white and I believe them because police officers call me “sir”.
I love this line, but I didn’t realize the full implication of it until I saw it referenced in a twitter discussion about libertarians and race. Colbert slyly exposes his privilege while disclaiming it, which is genius. His purported colorblindness is a defense of his privilege.
Another reason that I refused to admit my privilege is that I liked the results. This, sadly is a remnant of my lamentable detour into libertarian beliefs. I internalized the “culture of dependence” argument. I thought that other racial groups and women would be OK with just pretending that everything was suddenly equal. Mind you, I didn’t bother to ask any of these groups.
So what does it mean for me now that I’m able to admit my privilege? It does not mean that the existence of the privilege is the only determining factor when faced with an issue. It does mean that I am better able to properly empathize with different groups’ positions. People sometimes let me know that acknowledging privilege is naive. Or it is “playing into their hands” like this is some sort of zero-sum game. Or it is white guilt. I don’t agree. Instead I know that I would feel guilty perpetuating the illusion of things being OK today. There is still much to be done.