I am privileged. I am white, straight, cisgendered, thin, middle class, first world, able bodied. Apart from my gender, I’ve pretty much hit the privilege jackpot. Even being a female, I recognize that the oppression and discrimination I’ve experienced (and I have) is tame compared to those in other parts of the world. In terms of access and resources and genetics – I was born with a big fat horseshoe inserted squarely up my ass. And I’m one of the few that knows it.
My privilege is a problem. My privilege limits my ability to empathize with those not in the same position. My privilege gives me a false sense of authority on a variety of subjects that I know nothing about; that people will listen to me on simply because of how I look and act. Despite being more educated about what privilege is than most people who present like me, despite knowing what harm I can do and how desperately I’m needed as an ally, I still catch myself frequently living in my privilege. Abusing it.
My privilege is a problem because I still catch myself being frustrated with individuals from other ethnicities when they don’t understand and conform to my cultural norms. Instead, I should be accepting of all backgrounds and not trying to force what I think is the ‘right’ way, the ‘right’ language, the ‘right’ behaviour.
My privilege is a problem because I can’t stand basic grammatical errors in writing and in the spoken word. Instead, I should recognize how classist this is and stop assuming a person’s intelligence is tied to their ability to distinguish which ‘their’ should even be used in this sentence.
My privilege is a problem because try as I might, I can’t get fully behind the concept of ableism. I agree that accommodations should be made whenever possible, but I think that sometimes we immerse ourselves so fully in accommodating every single scenario that we take away from the experience. That sometimes, accommodation may not be possible. That sometimes, there may be individuals that can’t/won’t participate because they are unable to. That sometimes, that is okay and part of life. Instead, I should be acknowledging that my abled body has no idea what it’s like to be constantly left out of life. I should be listening to those that do know what it’s like. I should be actively working to lessen their struggle and making safe spaces for their inclusion.
My privilege is a problem because I can’t fathom why it’s so offensive to use words like ‘crazy’, ‘insane’ or ‘deaf’. I think words are powerful, but I also think they can have multiple meanings. I think it matters how you use them. I think it context is key. I actually think that repurposing words that, historically, were oppressive and offensive carries a tremendous power. I know that when I call an idea ‘crazy’ or a situation ‘insane’ that I am really, truly not making reference to those who are struggling with their mental health. I know that in my limited network of people who truly do have mental afflictions, there are virtually none that are upset by this vocabulary. But instead, I should be listening to those that are offended. I should believe them. I should recognize when people become complacent in their journeys, so used to oppression that they can’t even identify it anymore. I should be striking these words from my vocabulary simply because someone with much more experience than me says that they are not okay.
My privilege is a problem because I do sometimes equate fat with unhealthy. I am vain and want that media-inspired bikini body. I judge the overweight people I see at fast food restaurants. I call myself ‘fat’ when I gain a few pounds. Instead, I need a serious reality check. I need to learn that health is not just correlated with pounds but that even if it was, it’s none of my damn business.
Mostly, my privilege is a problem because it’s not just mine. I’m privileged because I’m in the majority. I have many friends in the same category, and there are many more people just like me whom I don’t even know. My privilege is many people’s privilege, and it’s contributing to discrimination. I am in a slim percentage of people like me who even know what privilege is and how my attitudes affect others. Most people coast through life without giving it another thought. So if I, a person who is (I feel) significantly more aware than most of my peers, have these thoughts and abuse my privilege – what does that say about everyone else? What does that say about the possibility of better inclusion and acceptance? The reality is that for change to happen, there has to be a movement that the majority of people get behind and promote. I have a duty to do my part and be an activist against oppression. I have a responsibility to advocate on behalf of minority groups without coming down with a case of White Man Saviour syndrome. I need to listen when people tell me something is harmful. I need to believe them. I need to holster this attitude of ‘you’re overreacting’ and ‘what’s the big deal’. I need to stop acting like I know best.
The challenge is doing all of this in a world where my harmful attitudes are constantly reinforced; where my peers are constantly told it’s not an issue. It is an issue, when used to continue the cycle of oppression instead of working to eliminate it. Not nearly enough of us are using our privilege in the right way and until we do – my (and your) privilege is very much a problem indeed.