Do You Have Privilege?

Do You Have Privilege?

How to know whether you have privilege, or not.

I didn’t understand what privilege was for a long time. What rights did they have that we did not? Was it easier for Caucasians and straight males to get jobs, to attain and economic mobility? How did I even know if I had privilege?

It’s a difficult concept to understand, and it is not one that we can fully grasp quickly. I truly only begun to understood its magnitude after reading Peggy McIntosh’s White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies, when she described white privilege as “an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, assurances, tools, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear and blank checks.

Invisible. Weightless.

Those with privilege are blind to it, unaware that their knapsacks are fitted snugly on their shoulders. They assume that everyone carries the same backpack, equipped with the tools and provisions necessary to survive and navigate the world.

Now, what are the literal manifestations of these metaphorical compasses and maps? How do they present themselves in our day-to-day lives?

Privilege is being able to walk into the nearest Walgreens and buy a Band-Aid in your skin color.

Privilege means you can flip on the television and easily find a program with a person of your race as the main character.

Privilege is being able to shop, undisturbed, in a grocery store without having someone constantly ask you if you need help because they think you’re stealing.

Privilege is not constantly, uncannily being the victim of a “random search” at the airport each time you travel.

Privilege means you are not worried about your actions and decisions reflecting on your race, as a whole.

Privilege is feeling comfortable keeping your hood on at night, without fear of being seen as a thug or criminal.

Privilege is not panicking when a police officer approaches you when you haven’t done anything wrong.

Privilege means when you get accepted to college or get a job, your success will not be attributed to “Affirmative Action” instead of your academic merit.

It means you can leave and enter this country at ease, without having to worry about a policy or ban affecting your ability to return home. It means you can walk into a hospital and feel assured that you will be treated with proper respect. It means you can hold hands with the person you love in public, without fear of becoming victim to slurs. It means you have never had your race compared to animals, like apes or monkeys.

It is far more simple to stay blind to your privilege, to ignore it, to let the knapsack stay invisible. However, it requires a great deal of self-awareness and candidness to let yourself feel the straps of the backpack digging into your shoulders, to thank your good fortune that you were born with it.

I am not privileged. As an Indian-American woman, I was subject to harmful stereotypes. I was told that I could never be as intelligent or successful as a man. I was told that Indian-American women should aspire to be wives and mothers, not engineers. I was told that girls could not like sports, that Indians are dirty and smell like curry, that Hinduism wasn’t even a real religion, that people of my race were stealing all the American jobs, that Indians were only capable of buying local 7/11s and Dairy Queens.

My race was judged by the television characters of Baljeet in Phineas and Ferb, Raj in The Big Bang Theory, and Ravi in Jesse. Each one of these characters had an embarrassingly inaccurate, thick accent and a flat personality. They were socially inept and scientifically inclined, and I only recently realized how much more representation my, and all other non-white races, need.

Where are the female Indian basketball players, lawyers, and activists in television? Why are the only Indian characters in television manifestations of insulting stereotypes?

I am not privileged because it’s pretty hard to find Band-Aids that match my skin color. I am not privileged because I take extra care to deodorize and wear perfume because I don’t want people thinking that Indians are smelly. I am not privileged because I like talking on the phone because the person on the other end can’t see my skin; I don't have an accent, so I sound like a white person, and I’m treated as such.

That being said, I am privileged.

I experience the benefits of middle-class, heterosexual, cis privilege. I have never worried about not having food on the table, about discussing my romantic interests with my friends, about filling out my gender on surveys, about being able to afford to attend university, to buy a new winter coat. I did not have to be concerned about gang violence in my neighborhood. I did not have to drop out of school to have a job to support my family. I was blessed with a supportive community and above all, a supportive family, who assured that I had a comfortable, shielded upbringing. They told me I could be anything, do anything, regardless of my economic situation, my race, or my sex.

I never stressed about having my hood on at night, being followed in a grocery store, or of unjustly losing my life to the hands of the police.

I am privileged, I am not privileged. I can only beg you to ask yourself the same question,

Are you privileged?

Cover Image Credit: Heavy

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Are You Privileged?

Privilege - a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.

During finals, someone asked me how I got such a good grade on my organic chemistry final and I just said "I studied" and he proceeded to tell me it was because I am privileged.

When I argued with this Hispanic man (I need to mention his ethnicity because he used mine as an argument) he said "You're American, white, college educated, and have married parents." (All the things he listed were also true for him - he was born in the United States, his parents were married and legal immigrants, he was also college educated.)

The only thing he lacked was my skin color, so I assume he was trying to point out my white privilege, which I know 100% exists, but was not the reason why I got a good grade on my final.

It really made me think. I came up with a million arguments as to why I wasn't privileged. I'm not American, I'm actually a Brasilian DACA student who's DACA expires right before graduating college meaning that, yes, I am college educated, but may not be a college graduate. Yes, I do have white skin and my parents are happily married, even though it wasn't always that way.

So, maybe not all of the arguments he used we exactly my privilege points. But I did realize, after thinking long and hard, that I am very privileged. I have a car, a cell phone, a warm place to live, plenty of food to eat (probably too much if you ask my mom), friends and family who love me unconditionally. I have a job that pays for what it needs to. I am very privileged.

Privilege is having access to the internet and a computer. Privilege is waking up in the morning in your own bed with blankets. Privilege is picking up your phone to tweet or write an article every time Donald Trump does something that you don't agree with. Privilege is being able to hug you mom every day and complain about all the stupid their parents ask you to do. Privilege is the smell of coffee in the morning. Privilege is being upset when things don't go your way. EVERYONE has some sort of privilege that the next person does not.

It may not be apparent, but everyone is privileged. Even the snot-bag that pointed out my privilege because I passed my exam. Maybe he doesn't have the privilege of being responsible enough to stay up and study the night before he has an exam, but he does have the privilege of going out the night before his exam. And that makes him privileged all the same as me.

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My Encounter With A White Person Who Didn't Understand Their Privilege

And what I learned as a person of color.

Just the other day, in my women’s studies course, Gender, Race, and Class, we began the class with a bit of a controversial discussion relating to white people and the N-word. Discussions ensued about the topic, and as you can imagine, there were some differences of opinion. The discussion then progressed into the topic of white privilege.

Now, let me give you a little bit of perspective. In this course, there is a group of approximately only 14 students, including myself. Of all those students there are only two people of color — myself, and another student who is a transfer.

Ironically enough, it seemed as though the majority of the other students understood the concept of white privilege and recognized that they had it. One person, however, did not.

This person claimed that white privilege isn’t really a “thing,” as we are all born with the same rights and have the same opportunity to accomplish the same goals. They argued that they have known white people who have never had a home and have struggled financially their entire lives and they have equally known people of color who become very successful in life and have never worried about finances. That, they argued, refutes the idea that white people tend to have some kind of upper hand.

To refute this, the other person of color in the room and I offered examples of how white privilege exists in our society, to no further understanding from the person. More impactful, however, was the example illustrated by another white person, in which she told us a story of an experience she had at a local Starbucks.

She explained that in her experience, she entered into a Starbucks and ordered coffee, and as she was waiting for her coffee, she found herself standing in front of two police officers also waiting for coffee. She expressed that in realizing the two cops were in her presence, she “felt a little safer than [she] had before.” And for a second, she said she thought about her position in that moment and realized her own privilege, for in that moment, she was released of any fear.

In contrast, this is not something that can be said by many people of color, who in light of a growing number of cases of police brutality live in fear of being caught “walking while [insert non-white adjective here].”

Despite this illustration, the person aforementioned still could not recognize there was any privilege, insisting that I have the same opportunity as them, regardless of the color of my skin or the ethnicity of my parents.

The issue they failed to realize is that this, in fact, is not true. Though perhaps, in theory, it may be true that I was born with the exact same rights and opportunity, in essence, in the very substance that makes me who I am, that is not the case.

The person of color’s reputation has forever been tainted into being “the other” and “less” than a white person, and this reputation has successfully, psychologically infiltrated the minds of every member of society, including people of color themselves, through historical social constructs.

That is the realization that dawned on me altogether. Even if I work hard enough, end up in the same places, do the same jobs, it will never mean the same. It will never be interpreted the same. Many flaws will be found to condition and diminish my success. It will never be as praiseworthy.

It’s like the resume experiment. Two identical resumes and different names, one white and one ethnic-sounding, and the white-sounding name gets the job.

THAT is white privilege. White privilege is feeling safe around cops because you are not perceived as a threat by default. White privilege is being portrayed for your good qualities when you commit a crime and getting a charismatic shot in the paper instead of your mugshot. White privilege is the President of the United States referring to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “criminals,” Muslims as "terrorists,” black protestors as “sons of bitches,” but white-supremacist Neo-Nazis as “very fine people.” White privilege is having your successes elevated and your failures downplayed.

White privilege is not understanding your privilege.

And so, after the class, I went to my car and cried for a very long time because for the first time I really realized, no matter how great I become, I will never be esteemed with the same regard as a white person. And better yet, we will never understand each other. Like the great German thinker Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “No one has ever properly understood me, I have never fully understood anyone; no one understands anyone else.”

No matter how hard I try, the white person has never walked in my shoes and therefore will never understand me nor the essence of their privilege, and I as a person of color will never understand anything more than marginalization.

Cover Image Credit: Sabrina Sanchez

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