A quick note on privilege

I saw this TIME op-ed making the rounds on facebook, and it inspired me to write a quick post on privilege. Of course, most of this has been said before, but it bears repeating:

By definition, most characteristics that grant people unearned privilege in society — like race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, ability, class, national origin, etc. — are accidents of birth and out of one’s control. Belonging to certain groups grants people advantages (or doesn’t create certain disadvantages) compared to people outside of those groups. That’s privilege, plain and simple. It doesn’t mean that people with privilege don’t work hard or that life will be all sunshine and rainbows, there are just a few struggles we* most likely won’t ever have to experience or and can move move through life completely unaware of.

It’s nonsense to “apologize” for things beyond your control and, last time I checked, no one would ever ask anyone to. However, what people DO have control over is their level of obliviousness to the legacy and continued existence of systemic and institutionalized discrimination/oppression/bias based on certain characteristics. When someone says “check your privilege”, they don’t want an apology, they just want you to examine your perspective for any blind spots (one of the insidious effects of having privilege) and work on decreasing your levels of obliviousness. Apologies and guilt do nothing to dismantle any systems of oppression and won’t get any of us any closer to free. Taking a second to seek to understand others, to empathize, and to Google could help a little bit though.



*I have privilege too: I’m an American, middle-class, non-disabled person with English as hir first language. I’m there are probably other privileges I have that I’m not even aware of, since that’s one of the ways privilege operates.


~ by hirandnow on May 5, 2014.

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