The Trouble with Privilege

30 Aug

The trouble with privilege is that until somebody explains it to you, you don’t know you have it. And even when somebody explains it to you, sometimes you are too scared to admit that you are wrong, and you refuse to accept that you have it. Privilege is many things wrapped up into one, big arrogant ball.

Privilege is what allows men like Akin to make comments like “legitimate rape.” It’s what allows the rich to say success is all about hard work. It’s what allows heterosexuals to say that sexuality is a choice. It’s what allows white folks to ignore the correlation between skin colour, poverty, and rates of incarceration. It’s what allows anti-choicers to say that unplanned pregnancies are a result of “irresponsibility,” and then turn around and get abortions because it wasn’t their fault they ended up with an unplanned pregnancy. Privilege is what allows people to walk through this world viewing everything as black and white and pretending that their lives are successful because of the choices they made, and that the lives of the less fortunate are that way because they made bad choices. Arrogance is what allows those same people who end up in a bad spot blame somebody else for their circumstances, while still blaming those in their situation for their circumstances.

The trouble with privilege is that it is insidious. Unless you are watching for it, privilege sneaks into your thought processes and you never even know it. The trouble with identifying privilege is that it forces you to change your entire worldview; to abolish a belief system that you have held for decades; to accept that you are a white, successful, middle-class+ individual with a home, a good job, and money for vacations in large part because of blind dumb luck. Luck that you were born in a wealthy country and not an impoverished one. Luck that you were born with the privileges associated with being white, rather than the barriers that come with being black or latino. Luck that you were born a man and not a woman because your chance: of an unplanned pregnancy is zero, of being raped is slim, of being paid less for equal work is low, of having your body more regulated than food production is unlikely, or of being made to feel that you are less human than a collection of cells is unfathomable.

If you don’t think you have privilege, ask yourself: was I born in North America? Am I white? Am I a member of the dominant religious group (in my city/town/country)? Am I heterosexual? Am I middle class, or more than middle class? Do I have a post-secondary education? Do I own a home or car? Is that a reasonable prospect for me? Do I have a future? Do my children have a future? Do I ever go to bed hungry? Do I ever have to choose rent vs. food? If your answer is yes to all but the last two questions, you are privileged. If you can accept that you have privilege, and you acknowledge that none of your answers to those questions was based on “choice,” then you can be part of the solution. You know that non-white folks have significantly higher rates of poverty and incarceration, and that neither are “choices.” I urge you to take the time to point out privilege to all your friends and family whenever they suggest that the difference between poverty and middle class, between a future for you and your children, vs. no future, has very little to do with choice, and is almost entirely due to luck, and the associated privilege that comes with it.

Do not feel guilty for your privilege. Acknowledge it and work to teach others about theirs, and work to help overcome the benefits you reap from it. Work to make the lives of those with less/no privilege better. Vote for the party that does not punish the poor for being poor, or women for being women, or homosexuals for being homosexual. Demand that your government acknowledge that these are not choices, that they are not “bad decisions,” and that they are not deserving of punishment.

The amazing thing about Abortion Gang is that we have a private email listserv that allows us to review each others work and point out each others privileges, and we can accept it when it’s pointed out to us without getting defensive. Unfortunately, this is a very rare quality of our group. Make it a part of your group too.

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