I’m black, I’m a woman, I’m straight, I have a college education and I’ve never had to worry about where my next meal came from.
My identity is full of bits that give me an edge in our society and bits that put me at the bottom of the barrel of it. I have the privilege of not worrying about someone thinking that my sexuality is an abomination. I have the privilege of having a great education and I have the privilege to have grown up in a middle class family with two working parents who were able to provide me with a living situation that assured that I never went to bed hungry. And yet, I’m a woman, so I’m likely going to be paid less than my male counterparts and deal with sexual harassment just by walking down the street. And yet, I’m black and I have to deal with the fact that I have to make an effort to see people who look like me on television and movies; I have to deal with the fact that people think of me because of the color of my skin.
Some of you are probably reading this wondering, okay, so what’s your point? Well, before I get into that, I want you to think about your identity. What aspects of your identity come with advantages and which come with struggles?
We’d have to be blind to ignore the fact that it doesn’t hurt to be white in this world of ours, given the fact that that alone reduces your chances of being locked up or hired for jobs. It’s also a big advantage to be rich. It’s a lot easier to navigate life as someone who is straight than someone who is gay and, in nearly every culture I can think of, being a man comes with a lot more privileges and power than being a woman.
Acknowledging our privilege can make us a little uncomfortable, but that discomfort is good and it’s the best way to learn about inequality, even when we have the privilege not to notice some of them! Here’s an example from my life:
I have a reputation for calling out sexism and racism without a flicker of hesitation, but I’ve been called out, too! One incident in particular really stuck with me. I was rambling on and on with a friend of mine about studying abroad in London, talking about all of the adventures I went on. He said that he would love to have had that opportunity, to which I said, “Oh, definitely travel ASAP!”
That’s when he gave me my reality check: He reminded me of the fact that he grew up poor, couldn’t afford college to even have a study abroad experience and he has never left the United States. And yet, there I was, offhandedly telling him to travel abroad as if it’s the easiest thing in the world. He had every right to feel irked by me in that conversation, especially given my inability to acknowledge that this dude just didn’t have the same means that I had.
At first I felt a little offended that he assumed that I wasn’t aware of his circumstances. I was worried that he thought that I was some ignorant girl who was showing off. But instead of getting caught up in all of that I learned something important about myself that day: While I’m constantly telling others to check their privilege, I forgot to check my own. This opened my eyes to the things that I have going for me and it made me aware of how effed up and unfair it was that my friend couldn’t have the same advantages.
See, that’s why acknowledging our privilege isn’t about being snobby or bragging. It’s not about getting politically correct cool points. It’s an important step in understanding how inequality works its way into our everyday lives and figuring out how to fix it. Sometimes these inequities are subtle, sometimes they’re overt, but our ability to see them lies in our ability to accept that they exist in the first place!
How? Well, look at it this way: Let’s say you’re a white girl and you’re into drawing. You’re coming up with some characters for a short story. You show them to a friend of yours who looks at your character designs and says, “Hm, why are all of these characters white?” Your friend–maybe she’s Asian, maybe she’s black, maybe she’s Native American–notices the lack of diversity because she’s so used to not seeing herself represented. You might not have noticed and it’s not because you’re racist, but it’s because you’ve never really had to think about what a privilege it is to constantly see people who look like you in the media. Solution: You come up with a more diverse lineup of characters. That right there is progress in action and all it took was a little listening and a little empathy.
That’s why acknowledging our fortunate circumstances is one of the biggest steps to actually making the world a better, more equal place.
Have people told you to check your privilege? Do you have trouble getting your friends to understand some of your struggles? Tell us in the comments!