Privilege is a right or benefit that is given to some people but not others. It only benefits individuals of a certain race, class, gender and/or education levels. In the US, if you are an educated, heterosexual white male from the middle class or higher you are considered one of most if not the most privileged individual in American society. The systems within our society benefit these individuals because they are systems created by and for these individuals.
Privilege has been discussed for years within academic classrooms, but more recently writers have brought out the discussion in articles and blogs alike. I question if the discussion surrounding it is productive.
It was not until I had taken a couple of women’s studies classes in college did I understand what privilege means. More specifically how I am affected by it and how I affect others due to it. I am a white, educated American woman who grew up in a middle class family. I grew up privileged, and coming to terms with it and how it affects others took destruction of my own identity. Moreover how it is intertwined with parts of my identity.
When I think about privilege I often think about high school. The popular kids in high school wear the most expensive clothes, have the newest cell phones and more. They are like the privileged people in our society. We look up to these people because we are sold the idea that unless you are like them in assimilating to a certain lifestyle and believing in certain ideas, you are lesser than them. High school is only a small bubble of the trickle-down effect of privilege; in reality it is on a much larger and more complicated scale.
I know many people around me who are privileged and do nothing about it. On the flipside, when some do charity work I am aggravated by what they consider doing good. The hypocrisy of their “charity” events really gets to me. They have charity dinners where they rent out fancy halls and ridiculously overpriced meals in the name of poverty, but throw out the left-over food from the event. They may raise money to donate to a good cause, but when was the last time they volunteered at a soup kitchen or a shelter? I understand the importance of raising money for charities, but doing it this way feels insincere. It is a way for them to feel better about their own privilege without actually taking a critical look at how they perpetuate poverty around them. As the saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind.”
Having conversations with others who are less and more privileged than me helped me further understand the very real idea of it. It is important to remember that it works because it is within a system that oppresses others through institutionalized racism, sexism, homophobia speciesism, cisexism and ableism.
I am aware of my privilege and I want to use it in a positive way to create change. I see injustices around me on a daily basis; I am educating my family and friends around me to look at how they impact the world. As I am conscious of my privilege, I am appreciative of the opportunities it has granted me. Without it, I would not be where I am today, writing this article or educating people around me about the injustices we perpetrate onto our earth, humanity and other species.