Of late, I have been having and reading some really good – if hard – conversations about privilege. Some of us are questioning the very idea that we have privilege, and some of us are trying, quite reasonably, to not be the people who have to point out the privileges others do not have.
As one of the most privileged people in the world, I have to say that it’s taken me a long time to come to that realization. Perhaps there’s something in me that wants to think of myself as an underdog who has overcome, maybe I’m fully steeped in the idea of Manifest Destiny and the individualism of the American culture in which I was raised, maybe I’m just a little slow on the uptake.
But of late, it has become more and more apparent to me that I am privileged in a profound number of ways and that I have a responsibility (note, I don’t say it’s an obligation because that implies requirement; responsibility is about ownership of my experiences) to use that privilege to help bring more people into the realm of these opportunities.
Until we all are treated as equally valuable – in law, in culture, in community – we must fight for equality, and equality requires that we call out privilege when we see it. So today, I’m putting my singular voice to work to show the ways in which I hold a great deal of privilege, not to shame, not to deny that some of us have experienced a deep lack of privilege, not to claim that privilege in one area means privilege in all – but to simply use my privilege to speak a tiny bit of truth to power. So here are the ways I am privileged.
- I am white in a nation where being white means I am more accepted and acceptable in most every situation.
- I am Christian in a nation where Christian is argued – though not actual – to be the foundation of the country.
- I am middle class and have always been middle class. I have always had choices about how to spend my money.
- I have not ever been hungry or gone without a safe place to sleep. I have always had clean water.
- I am American and, thus, part of the most powerful, wealthiest nation in the world.
- I am straight and gendered as one of the two recognized and “acceptable” genders in the world.
- I was born with a physical anatomy that aligns with one of the two “traditional” sexes in the world.
- I am able-bodied and mentally unimpaired.
- I grew up with both parents who loved me, provided for me, and never mistreated me.
- I have not only a college degree but two graduate degrees which provide me with an education and the requisite opportunities most people in the world are denied.
- I have an internet connection in my home.
- I speak English as my first language and do not NEED to learn a second language to thrive.
- I have never been attacked by an animal and, thus, do not have to fear animals when in public or at home.
- I have never been raped.
Of course, in some ways, I am not privileged. I am a woman in a society that still treats women as lesser in very significant ways. I have been sexually assaulted on several occasions. I am not thin, although that is through my own choices not a health condition or physical environment that makes such a physical appearance impossible.
Here is what I am coming to recognize: my lack of privilege in one area does not preclude my other privileges. Just because I am a woman does not then cancel out the privilege I experience as a white person, nor does being white make me not experience the lack of privilege that comes with being a woman. Privileges are part of a complex matrix of opportunities and denials that create privileges while denying others.
I have shown my ignorance many times – by thinking things normative when they are merely privileged, by presuming I have earned much of what has been given to me, by using language that reinforces privilege instead of breaking it down. But I am learning . . . mostly, I am learning to listen. I am learning to hear voices that do not sound like my own, and I am learning that those voices speak of experiences that are every bit as true as my own, even if I don’t relate or understand, even my first reaction to those voices is defensiveness.
Listen, Andi, Listen. Hold your voice and let others rise. For hearing, that, too, is a privilege.
What privileges do you possess? What privileges do you find it hard to see yourself having?