In getting my Bachelors in Social Work, we talk a lot about marginalized, or oppressed people groups. If there are marginalized and oppressed groups of people, then there are those groups who are privileged enough not to experience that oppression. Oppression means a loss of something; rights, economic opportunity, health. Then the other group(s) gain what the other group(s) lost.
Discussions of privilege often turn a lot of people off.
Some claim it doesn’t exist, others claim that if you don’t acknowledge it then you can’t talk about any of the issues we see today. Now I won’t necessarily talk about how to get past all of that, but I can talk about my own experience, how I see my privilege, and how I see it has affected my life. But it’s important to note that this isn’t a journey I find myself at the end of, really, I am at the beginning, but for those of you interested, here I am so far.
When looking at my privilege I am left seeing two categories: things I have gained because of it, and things I lack because of it. I will be looking at my experience through these two lenses. Of gaining things that many people have had taken away from them. And of what burdens I do not have to carry.
When my family came to the United States they used the Homestead Act of 1862 to claim their land.
At first, I thought this was just a fun piece of family history that tied me to the larger American story, but upon further reflection, I couldn’t see it that way anymore. The land my family took had been the land of Native Americans. The government had forced them to leave and then sold it to my family. I’ve heard that some relative of mine still owns it. This is just one example of how my family, and ultimately me, have benefitted from the oppression of another group. It’s hard to think of this as a “fun” piece of family history, although it certainly does say volumes about the history America would like to say about itself.
With that being said, what story do I tell about myself in regards to privilege? This was one of the hardest things for me to grasp, but what I have come to learn is; my privilege is obvious, not just because of thoughts I have, but because of the thoughts I don’t have to have. I have never worried that the person in the other side of the park is staring at me as I am on my run and that I should hold my keys in my hand, just in case I need to defend myself. And I have never felt the fear that I might a close relationship after I tell them my sexual orientation. I don’t walk out the door and feel eyes on me, judging me, because of the color of my skin.
In the end, what I think makes it clear that I am privileged is that for me, this is a discussion, for other people, this is life.
I have the luxury of thinking about this when I choose and learning about it when I feel like it. But if you are born into a marginalized group this isn’t a question of when and how to think about it, it’s a fact of life, something that is carried with you every day.