Either you get it, you don’t, or you try to explain it. And fail.
I think it’s about time someone tries to explain it in a concise way that hopefully everyone can understand. Not that people haven’t tried. I just happen to have a few analogies up my sleeve.
Here’s the most important thing to remember. If you are in a place of privilege, pointing out privilege is not an attack on you. I notice that every time I try to explain this to someone, they assume I’m inferring they didn’t work hard. That’s not true. It’s simply acknowledging systematic racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. that automatically puts others at a disadvantage.
Another important note, a person can be at a disadvantage in one area, but in others be privileged. For example, I am a white female. I have the advantages that come with being white, but disadvantages that come with being a woman. It’s as humans are multifaceted and nuanced. Crazy, right?
Privilege is defined as “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people”. Think about these facts. America is 238 years old. Women couldn’t vote for 114 years. We had African American slaves for 89 years of our history, and the Civil Rights movement still didn’t come till another 100 years. Only two years ago were people of the LGBTQ community allowed to legally get married. Our country was founded with everyone on different levels of privilege.
Now that we live in modern times we assume, those problems are over. How could they possibly affect us now? We agree that everyone is equal now. Here’s the thing. Easier said than done. I went to the number one high school in New Hampshire and there wasn’t one black person in my grade. In 2008, the child poverty rate was 35% for black children, 31% for hispanic children compared to 11% for white children (NCCP). I get catcalled 3 or 4 times on my way to class a day. Women still get paid 77 cents to the dollar of a man. This is even less for black and hispanic women The chances of a trans woman getting murdered is 1 in 12, compared to 1 in 16,000 for everyone else. Hate crimes against gay people are gravely underreported. So clearly something is commuting.
Again, the assumption of privilege doesn’t pin anyone as the bad guy. It’s our past ever looming across our future. You think the past doesn’t affect us? Christianity was formed over 2000 years ago, and I live outside an ever bustling church, and wake up to the sound of church belle every morning. Humans don’t necessarily drop their old ways because one day someone said to. After the women’s movement of the 1960s society agreed to give more voice and rights to women, but that change doesn’t come overnight. It takes years of trial and error to change our social norms.
So here’s my plain explanation: Privilege is when someone receives lower treatment, over something they can’t control and a another person receives better treatment for something they have no control over. The key word is control. We shouldn’t let these inherent biases control us. We, people, should control how someone should be treated. So what do we do? We raise each other up. We help each other. Think of it this way. I have two chocolate bars that I was automatically given with no added effort on my part because my eyes were brown; the color of chocolate. The person next to me was automatically given 0 chocolate bars based on their eyes being blue. Seems unfair? Well, hand over 1 candy bar and then you will each have one. You were never entitled to two to begin with just because of your eye color, so why not share the wealth and help others?
In simpler terms, acknowledge your privilege and use it to help those less fortunate than you. See, privilege isn’t about you personally. Saying “I’m not racist” or “I’m not sexist” isn’t the problem. We all carry our history together. As a society, we are effected by choices made in the past. I’m a part of it, and so are you. So when we carry it together, let’s carry it down the right path. A path where everyone gets chocolate.