I’ve watched a Facebook video trying to explain the basic principles of privilege with a short race where the winner gets a $100(metaphor for getting a decent paying job). The judge told people on the starting line to move two steps forward if they fall into any category he’s going to yell out.
And he said things that may agitate any heterosexual white person in America. He yelled out stuff like; take two steps forward if you’ve grown up with a father figure in your home, if you had access to a private education, if you never had to worry about your cellphone being shut off, if you never had to help out your parent with paying bills, if you don’t have to pay for college by yourself and so on…
I might also add several statements like; take steps forward if you’re feeling safe in kissing your partner in public, if you can talk with the police without worrying about being shot or if you can get dressed in the morning without being labeled as mentally disturbed.
The shocking part of the video was in the comments(isn’t it always), where the majority of Americans(predominantly white heterosexuals) were triggered into writing nasty comments and calling the whole concept ‘bullshit’. They also called the finer points of the race an excuse for others to get what is not rightfully theirs. The commentators tried to explain — with great vigor — how marginalized minorities have actually got an advantage because some jobs have gender or race quotas(being completely oblivious about the fact that the quotas wouldn’t exist if the certain groups were secluded). One comment read, “Oh great. Let’s try to validate excuses!”
I was struck by how many people couldn’t understand the basic principle of privilege they had.
I would play exactly the same game in most human right classes to graphically display the advantage certain groups have over the others. The classes were held in Europe where social dynamics are different. We explored questions of social security of endangered groups like handicapped kids, transvestite women or war veterans with severe PTSP.
At the time it was pretty clear what privilege meant. We all understood it as an advantage some may get in life that is not directly the product of their doing(e.g. being born the certain way).
“Special right, advantage or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.” — Google Dictionary
It sounds simple. It’s just one sentence. Yet, so many Americans fail to understand its meaning.
Would you be the same person if you were born in California or Bangladesh?
I talked with my American friends(over a glass of wine) about free-will and the freedom to choose who we want to become in life. They agreed that we have a choice to do things differently(self-made man). One said; “you don’t have to linger in poverty if you decide to work hard. Look at me, I’ve never been handed things in my life. I had to work hard to get everything I have. There were no handouts.”
And I didn’t want to disregard their hard work by any means. I just couldn’t escape the question; Do they think you would be the same person if you were born in a poverty-stricken country where kids are forced to work twelve-hour shifts in clothing factories instead of going to school? Don’t they work hard as well? Maybe even harder?
They’re breaking their backs for pennies on the hour so we could enjoy fast fashion.
What are these children going to do later in life? Most will be stuck right where they are because they don’t have the opportunity to see the world differently. Their way out is not that clear. They can’t just work hard and enjoy a good life. Majority of them will never have the opportunity to even visit California or get to know the social status you can enjoy as a working American.
When this question came to mind, we changed the subject.
Privilege doesn’t mean you’re going to succeed
It’s hard to accept your privilege. If you worked hard your whole life it might be difficult to even comprehend that you had some kind of special advantage over the others.
Everyone’s burden is heaviest for them. Every hardship is felt through the subjective lens of your experience. And by that definition, the stuff you do is always the grandest for you because you never experienced anything worse.
The worst part of being privileged compared to other groups is when you don’t exactly become successful. It’s difficult to come to peace with the fact that you have an advantage and can’t make it work. It’s always difficult to realize your own shortcomings.
Being privileged is not like being a member of some club that grants you a safe passage to a good life. In fact, sometimes having no advantages can be a blessing in disguise, because it might prompt you to work harder or be prepared for catastrophes.
It’s hard to understand privilege when you’re the part of the group that may directly enjoy the benefits. It might be difficult to realize the scope of such social dynamics when you feel like nothing was handed out to you in your life.
We all live our lives through the subjective lens of our experience.
Having advantage doesn’t have to mean much in the overall run for good life. Sometimes, the hardships you overcome along the way may craft a more resilient persona with an even greater will to succeed.