In an effort to better ourselves with the aim of getting ahead in the society many of us pursue countless activities involving beautifying ourselves and our property, consuming goods, or figuring out our spirituality. Another opportunity to better yourself and society is to earnestly explore and take responsibility for one's privilege. Privilege is a scary word, particularly for the privileged, which undoubtedly, in one capacity or another, consists of all of you. Privilege is an advantage or benefit enjoyed by an individual or group to the exclusion or detriment of others. One can be privileged by class, race, gender, an able body, beauty, age, sexual orientation and education. Most of these privileges are things we were born into which in turn tend to manifest numerous other advantages which come to us privileged folks much more easily than those who don't have certain privileges. Unless you are a person who identifies as of color, transsexual, poor, ugly, disAbled, old and uneducated, please take a minute to acknowledge to yourself which privileges grace your life and then read on.
Many of you probably have a few privileges, yet it is likely that you don't feel privileged. So what is the deal with this privilege thing, and what is our responsibility in creating a more just society? Step one is to acknowledge whichever privileges you have every chance you get. Perhaps as a privileged person, you might not recognize that traveling on a damaged sidewalk without a sloped entrance is not an issue for you. Or perhaps if you're a white recreational drug user, you might not recognize that you are significantly less likely than your friends of color to be incarcerated for the same activities. Heck, just for the privilege of being white most people won't even assume that us white folks might do drugs even though according to research by the US Commission on Civil Rights our people comprise the majority of drug users. The same research shows that African Americans constitute 14 percent of all drug users, yet they account for 35 percent of drug arrests and 55 percent of convictions. Such statistics are some of many which indicate alarming inequality in the land of the free. Acknowledging privilege is a lifelong process—it takes a lot of self awareness to see things you have been conditioned not to see for your whole life.
Step two in confronting privilege is to talk with your friends, particularly if your friends are privileged. This serves a dual purpose: first, it makes another person more aware of their privilege; second, it allows a privileged person to attempt to alleviate feelings of guilt about having access to things others don't have access to.
Feeling guilty is a normal symptom of initially acknowledging privilege. However, since guilt is a useless paralyzing emotion, I recommend quickly moving on to step three of confronting privilege, which is to participate in activities which foster equality such as awareness building, writing your congressperson, protesting, being an ally, if financially capable purchase responsibly, community building, or many other things. Action oriented equality building activities have the dual purpose of contributing to a more just society while educating oneself.
Becoming aware of privilege and striving for its eradication is a lifelong process. Once one knows that they are privileged, it is imperative to keep striving toward equal access. So until privilege is universally acknowledged, you should expect to keep actively striving to use your privilege to create a better world. It's unlikely that in your lifetime all barriers to peace and equality will be eradicated but tangible progress can be made. Don't allow the length of the process or mistakes foster apathy—the little changes do matter. A lifelong commitment seems daunting, but it is rewarding to know that slowly you and the space you occupy are becoming more peaceful. Yes, we have come a long way, but we still have a longer way to go. We are at the end of the beginning of an epic multi-generational journey to establish a peaceful and just society. I hope you will join that struggle.
You can learn more about privilege by attending Peggy McIntosh's discussion, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack of Privilege,” Feb. 5 in the PAC Concert Hall. This is a free non-ticketed event.
ASP Civil Controversy