The thing about privilege is that it many times goes unnoticed by those who possess it. This year, one of my classmates in my literature class made the over-simplified claim that “All you need is hard work and perseverance, that’s what I have. People need to stop blaming their race for their own laziness.” However, when the teacher and students further questioned him, it was revealed that he not only was living as a majority being a white male, but he also lived in a household with two incomes, went to a prestigious high school and would be leaving college debt free. While I am not undermining his hard work or the fact that perseverance can lead to success, it’s necessary to note the other factors playing a role in it.
Like my classmate, we all have privileges that we many times forget to factor in and can attribute to our achievements. Because of this, I made a list of 20 privileged statements that can be forgotten. As you’re reading through them, make a mental note of how many statements are true for you.
1. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods that fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.
2. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.
3. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.
4. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.
5. I can choose blemish cover or bandages in 'flesh' or 'nude' color and have them more or less match my skin.
6. My academic, artistic, and athletic skills are rarely ever attributed to my race.
7. If my phone or other electronic device is damaged or stolen, I have the financial means to get a replacement.
8. I have never walked into a facility and been the only person of my race represented.
9. I have gone a significant amount of time without a job and have instead used money from parents, savings accounts or inheritance.
10. I am conscious of fashion trends and popular brands and try to buy clothing accordingly.
11. I have never had to worry about not being able to find something to eat or somewhere to sleep.
12. If I come across something at a store that I really want, I will most likely buy it.
13. If I am sick or don’t feel well, I won’t have to decide to not go to the doctor because of financial reasons.
14. I can go to places by myself at any time of the day without fearing for my safety.
15. The schools I attended or am attending have updated textbooks, computers, printers and qualified teachers.
16. Whether I decided to go or not, college is or has been an expectation, not a far-fetched dream.
17. People don’t seem surprised if they realize I am actually intelligent, hard-working or honest.
18. I am never asked to speak for all members of my race.
19. I never feel hindered or treated differently due to a physical or mental disability.
20. I will most likely find my race widely represented on television, magazines, advertisements, etc.
(1-5 was taken from one women’s individual experience with privilege in her paper, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”)
If you were able to find truth in even just one of the statements above, you are privileged.
However, a takeaway from this exercise shouldn’t be that it's a competition to see who is more discriminated against. In the end, everyone has qualities and circumstances that give them the upper hand and it is important to be aware and grateful for these.
Our society has a tendency to disregard every structural issue this country possesses that hinder certain minorities from reaching their potential, and instead point the blame and responsibility to the individual. This “American Dream” that gives people the impression that success is possible for everyone completely ignores the advantages for some and the barriers for others. So, instead, let’s be aware of our privileges and understand that while success is attainable for everyone with the right amount of hard work, the plain and simple truth is that success comes a lot easier for privileged people.