It’s just a way of describing the systemic power differences that we need to address.
Hey there, fellow white folks. Can we talk about “privilege” for a second? Because I really feel like we need to. Mostly because of the way people react when I bring it up.
I feel like a lot of the time, when I try to talk about privilege (especially white privilege, but also straight privilege, cisgender privilege, male privilege, and so on) that people get up in arms about it.
They take it as an insult. As though I’m saying they didn’t work hard in their life.
I need everyone to understand that privilege doesn’t mean prosperity. When someone says you’ve got privilege because you’re white, it doesn’t mean you’ve got an easy life. It just means you’ve got a relative advantage over someone in your identical situation who isn’t white.
Maybe you’re white and poor. Life is definitely hard for poor people in America. And being white probably doesn’t help you enough for you to feel it. But being black and poor? In America? In general that’s going to be (at the very least) a little bit harder than being white and poor. That’s the privilege part.
This does not mean that all white people have it easier than all nonwhite people. I think maybe that’s what you’re hearing, and it’s not what we’re saying.
I feel like when I say the words “white privilege” you hear “you’ve got it easier than [insert wealthy black celebrity here].” I am not saying that.
(Though I think I am going to point out that plenty of the wealthy black people you’ve heard of started off poor. Jay Z? Raised in the projects. Oprah? I mean for real poor.)
Or maybe you think I’m saying that being white is more advantageous than being rich? No, again, I’m not saying that, though it’s worth pointing out that it’s relatively harder for people of colour to escape poverty than white people. But it’s not easy for anyone.
See, each kind of privilege is a sometimes small but definitely persistent advantage a person can have over another in the same situation. That’s all.
Is it the word privilege people hate? Is it because folks have been denigrating people from other situations as “privileged” for years and now they hate the word?
Would it be an easier sell if we called it “relative advantage”? “Systemic advantage”?
How do we address this, other than to give it a name? And how do we move forward with a more equal society if we ignore it? This is something that has to be reckoned with.
So, friends, I’m asking you to understand what privilege is. Understand that it’s not an insult. It’s not personal. It’s not saying you don’t work hard, or that your life is easy. It’s putting a name to a systemic set of relative advantages and disadvantages that, when put together, work to make the world we live in less equal.
And getting rid of inequality is something everyone should want.
Signed: The Remixologist.
Featured image is of the words “This ‘wait’ has almost always meant ‘never'” projected on a brick wall, is by J. G. Park, and is in the public domain.