You Probably Don’t Even Know How Privileged You Are

Has anybody ever told you to "check your privilege"? | Source: Shutterstock

Has anybody ever told you to “check your privilege”? | Source: Shutterstock

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!

 

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19 Comments

  1. avatarAnna says:

    I really like your article. It really gives us a perspective on what we have. We should look at the positives and give thanks for all the blessings we have.

  2. avatarJoanna says:

    I really love this article. I’m taking a class in college right now called Gender in a Transnational World, but we literally talk about everything you said here. I also identify as a black straight female from an upper middle class upbringing. I always knew the disadvantages I had, being black and a woman, but I never really thought about how being straight and growing up in the middle class gave me privileges. It really does take a lot to actually realize that not everyone has the resources or privileges you have. They might think its obvious, like your friend, and think you’re being insensitive, but you truly didn’t see it before. Thanks for writing this.

  3. avatarKrang says:

    Really liked the article, Ashley. Especially the drawing metaphor (art reflects our world and how we see it) but aside from privilege, I’m sure u had to work really hard to get where u are today too. A poor person can get scholarships and grants and still go to college and study abroad too. I’ve seen it done. I’ve also seen privilege wasted too.

  4. avatarPerdy3000 says:

    For the people saying the example is racist, you are missing the point… Here’s another example for y’all: A skinny girl likes to draw. She shows her drawings to an overweight friend and her friend ask, “Why don’t you draw fatter people?” The overweight friend is feeling like she is over looked because you don’t see a whole lot of “pretty” fat girls. The skinny girl isn’t saying overweight girls aren’t worthy of being drawn, but she is kind of stuck in her own world. The writer is telling us sometimes you have to step out your own world to see the world as it really is.

  5. avatartays89 says:

    Why should a WHITE girl who draws purely for her own enjoyment and happens to draw only white people without ANY racist intent change what she does as a hobby just because it “offends” YOU? Why is it any of your business what she draws? Why does this offend you? What does this even have to do with you?

    • You seem really preoccupied with this example, so I’ll give you some food for thought: I love drawing. I’ve been drawing my entire life, even took art courses and figure drawing through high school. For years, unless I was drawing my family or a self portrait, I mostly drew white people. Why would a BLACK girl, who draws purely for her own enjoyment, happen to draw only white people? I’ll tell you why: Because a large majority of the media I consumed depicted white people. Because if I wanted to draw a pretty girl or woman, I thought of a white woman first and foremost. I saw diversity all around me, saw it every morning in the mirror, but I had no interest in drawing people who looked like me. And why SHOULD they look like me when people who look like me are not seen as default? Nobody had to actively put a hateful thought in my head to limit the perimeters of my imagination, I never actively decided to only portray white people, and nobody had to necessarily do that for this hypothetical white girl in this example either. I’m saying this to reiterate that there can be outside influence to the things we create that we don’t even realize.

      That’s why this is important to me. Because one girl’s illustration becomes a storyboard and becomes an animated series…with no diversity. One girl’s short story can become a novel which gets signed to become a movie…with no diversity. If you look at the world around you and see diversity but can’t even bother to write it or draw it or depict it in some way, there might be some more problematic concepts at play in that creative process than any of us realize until it is actually called out or examined.

      I’m sure you’re not going to appreciate any of what I just said and you’ll continue to make this about me being mean to white people or whatever, but this isn’t just about pleasing greedy brown people. It’s about taking a second to critique the way we look at the world around us. If that’s too much to ask of you, then so be it. But don’t try to characterize me or others who appreciate posts examining privilege as prejudiced whiners. It’s not a good look.

  6. avatarJanice says:

    This is such a great article, I really enjoyed it! I completely agree. It’s vital to acknowledge our privileges in order to work towards a more equal society. I think most of us have at least once felt like you did when telling your friend about London. It’s completely normal to unconsciously ignore that kind of facts (whether you’re talking about race, sexual preference, gender or socioeconomic status), but I firmly believe it’s important to eventually become aware of this situation. I really appreciate this kind of articles, thank you, Ashley! :D

  7. avatarAnne says:

    Guys. There is nothing inherently prejudiced about pointing out the fact that certain (white, straight, male) groups are priveleged in our society. It’s just reality. I know it’s a touchy subject: The truth is, I’m white, and there was a time when I would have been mortally offended by this sort of article too, but I’ve been lucky enough to know some very special people who have enlightened me a little since then. It took me awhile to learn this, but it isn’t hating on anyone to speak about sensitive subjects.

  8. avatarFaith says:

    I have a friend who’s into drawing and she usually draws white characters; you know why? Because she takes inspiration from her own life and she lives in a white country. There’s nothing wrong with that.

    Can you just stop subtly shaming white people while preaching equality?

    • If you live in a country with absolutely no diversity, that makes sense. Unfortunately, there’s a lack of diverse representation in the media in countries that have all sorts of different people in them. There’s no point in denying that.

      • avatarjoanie says:

        The drawing example didn’t bother me, except that if she’s drawing as a hobby, she has no obligation to draw any particular person, nor do you have any business telling her (and I realize she’s metaphorical but still) what she should draw.
        I get that art and media and fashion need to show more diversity, so pick on the big businesses that actually make an impact instead of some poor made-up girl (who represents a lot of us who draw AS AN OUTLET and don’t want to be told that our stress relief goes against your happy, lovey, social justice worldview).

  9. avatarTayy says:

    I love this article, best one you’ve ever written here that I’ve ready Ashley. Insightful and though provoking and personal.

  10. avatarashia says:

    very cool article.if this is the same black girl that wrote the article about the lack of diversity in the media, then i must say that i really do enjoy what you have to say. you were definitely very mature on this topic and didnt over talk it too much. that last example you used about having a white friend into drawing but only ever draws white people hit home with me because i just experienced the annoyance towards a friend who does that. she didnt quite understand it because she just draws girls she thinks are pretty but to me it hurts not to see these pretty girls ever look different in eyes, facial structure, body type or hair texture.but because she is drawing for her own enjoyment, i don’t want to press her to do what wont make her happy.it’s funny how much race is only important through certain points of view.

    • Ha! Yes, it is the same black girl. I’m really glad that you appreciate this topic and I’m happy to hear that it was easy to understand. It takes a lot to unlearn some pretty toxic things we’ve been brainwashed to believe about ourselves and others. I used to only draw white girls too and I didn’t realize how twisted that was until my teens. It took a lot of soul searching to realize how effed up my perspective on some things were, but I’m glad I managed to wriggle my way out of it. Some people will just never get that struggle, at all. The least they can do is be empathetic instead of treating us like we’re out of our minds/making things up.

  11. avatartays89 says:

    Hey, it would be really cool if you would stop hating on white people. Don’t even try to tell me you’re not because that would clearly be lying. I could pull something out of every one of your posts that has some kind of prejudice against white people present in it. Just stop.

    • It says a lot that that’s the only thing you got out of this piece. And please, pull something out of every one of my posts that says something prejudiced against white people. In fact, show me what I wrote that was so prejudiced in THIS article. I’m waiting.

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