We hope your semester has gotten off to a great start! Thank you to everyone who came to our first meeting. We had a wonderful discussion about privilege, so let’s dive in!
Privilege is any unearned benefit or advantage one receives in society by nature of their identity. Privilege can be had by different aspects of one’s identity, including race, class or wealth, gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, ability, citizenship status, etc. Privilege creates serious societal consequences for those who are denied it. (For more about what privilege is or means, check out this great article from Everyday Feminism!)
A helpful activity we did was a Privilege Checklist with which we all examined our privilege by going through the list and adding or subtracting according to the circumstances listed. Some examples of these include:
- +1 if you were able to study the history and culture of your ethnic ancestors in elementary and secondary school.
- +1 if you feel safe walking home alone at night knowing that you will most likely not be followed or harassed.
- +1 if you don’t have to think about daily pain level when planning events and activities.
- +1 if people don’t regularly ask you what your genitals look like.
- +1 if you can choose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match your skin.
- -1 if you’ve been called the wrong name or pronoun by people who did not respect your gender identity.
And the list goes on. It’s important after completing an activity like this to self-examine how the adding and subtracting made you feel, if you had privileges you didn’t know about or if certain statements really stung more than others.
Privilege can be very hard to talk about. We live in a society that reinforces the idea that privileges don’t exist and people are all inherently equal in the eyes of society, which is just not true. People often believe that privilege affects every aspect of one’s life – that if someone has privilege, immediately their life becomes unicorns and rainbows. We know this isn’t the case. Though people with privilege can, of course, experience hardship, it is not because of that privileged identity.
These discussions about privilege and oppression also make us feel very out-of-control of our lives. It makes us feel guilty for having privilege, even though we don’t have control of it.
So, what can we do about this?
We have to distinguish between negative and positive privileges. An example of negative privilege is not having to be afraid of being racially profiled or targeted by police. A positive privilege, for example, would be seeing people in media who are representative of your identities or look like you. Negative privileges should be abolished, whereas positive ones should be available to everyone.
In addition, we need to be constantly examining how privilege affects our daily lives. Checking your privilege is a key step in being a good ally to people of marginalized identities. Privilege affects so many aspects of our everyday experiences that we don’t notice – and we have to pay attention.
Our September 21 meeting will be screening LaDonna Harris: Indian 101, a film about the Comanche activist and feminist and her lifelong commitment to Native American social and political activism. The meeting after that will be on Reclaiming Radical on October 5. We hope to see you there! 🙂
Want more resources on privilege?