Gathered around with a group of friends late one night, the topic of privilege came up in the conversation. Unfortunately, the conversation did not go anywhere, in my opinion. It became a matter of opinions, without any listening actually happening. After that night, the word privilege and what it carries did not leave my mind. I wanted to write along with the help of my friend and co-author, Ajoke, to write about privilege, its meaning and the different types of privilege that exist out there.
Privilege is defined as a certain advantage given to a particular person or group of people. Each individual and every group, in one way or another, has a form of privilege. We as people define ourselves in multiple ways. We are intersectional. There is no one way to define us. There is not one box that we check off. We are creatures both big and small that cannot be held to one standard. And because of this, we hold and lack privileges in multiple ways. Everyone hears of white privilege, straight privilege, and cis privilege, but rarely do people hear of Christian privilege, skinny privilege, or even the ever so able-bodied privilege. As we check off our multiple boxes, we also check off multiple privileges.
When people hear the word privilege, it comes with a negative connotation. The most common scenario that happens when someone is accused of having privilege, is an angry rant filled with denial. It is has become an immediate response because having privilege is seen as a negative. This creates a ripple effect that prevents people from being active listeners and prevents them from understanding where the other person or group is coming from. We see this happen every day with our friends, strangers, and our government.
When understanding the meaning of privilege, the best explanation comes from a speech by David Foster Wallace. He begins his speech by describing a story of a couple of fish. Two fish are swimming in the ocean and they passed by an older fish the older fish greets them by saying, "How's the water boys?" and he keeps on swimming. A couple of moments later, the young fish turn to one another and ask, "What is water?" The two fish do not understand that they are swimming in water. They just know it as life. That is very similar to privilege, in that people do not always realize that they have privilege. It is just how they have always been. It is their water.
If you have ever read a Buzzfeed article, then you have heard all about white privilege. But what about other privileges? I myself identify as a black, cis female. I have many privileges of my own. For one, my parents are well off. I never had to struggle for money or for food. I never had to worry whether or not I was going to college. Yes, I have and probably will continue to face setbacks due to my race and gender, but it is nothing compared to what some of my cousins have to face back in Nigeria. It is nothing compared to the oppression that young girl's face in other countries where they are not allowed to seek an education. I am not pressured to get married at a young age. I am encouraged to seek my own profession. I never questioned that and I never see it as strange.
And that is privilege. Privilege is about not having the world against you at every turn.
I am privileged in some categories of my life but underprivileged in others. That is what is so special about privilege. While we may have a leg up in some ways, we are five steps behind in another.
Everyone should realize that they hold certain power over different groups. Rarely is this brought up, but there IS such a thing as black privilege. It may not seem like much, but black people in America have their voices heard on a larger scale than other minorities. When it comes to having our voices heard through the media, people can easily recall the civil rights movement or the black lives matter movement, but what about other minority groups?
Rarely do we hear of the rights of Native Americans being brought up. Their land is slowly being taken away, but we will hear about the gentrification of black communities. We hear about the lack of black representation in award shows concerning movies and television. But do people realize that Aziz Ansari and Sandra Oh are the only actors of Asian descent to win a Golden Globe in the last 33 years? African Americans may not be winning it all or even a percentage that reflects the diversity of America, but we have our voices heard more than others.
Privilege exists in all different forms. It is neither bad or good. It just exists. We need to acknowledge our privilege in whatever form it takes, to understand it, and to not try to deny it when someone points it out. When we could do that and listen to one another, then true change can happen. Something so simple can make a huge difference.
We can no longer bury our heads in the sand, ignoring said privilege because that itself is a privilege. With this information, those who hold privileges are now able to bring awareness to those without. We are able to use our platform and bring awareness to those who are not as fortunate as us.
Be proud of your privilege, acknowledge know that it is, and understand that with that power, you are able to bring a difference for others who do not hold it. Privilege is nothing to be ashamed about. Instead, it is something to be embraced and something to be used to create real change for future generations to come.