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Privilege, or My Undeserved, Arbitrary Advantages

I don’t have to think twice about walking into a gas station with a hoodie and walking out with skittles.
I don’t have to travel two states over to get married because my state doesn’t recognize me.
I don’t have to look for special ways to get into a building without ramps because I can’t walk.
I don’t have to ask people to repeat themselves and eventually give up communicating because I can’t hear.
I don’t get my character questioned because of what I wear to a club.
I don’t have to pull out my green card when I’m pulled over.
I don’t have to ask someone to describe things to me because I can’t see.
I don’t have to have my loyalties questioned because I don’t practice the majority religion.
I don’t have to endure stares when I walk into a bathroom because my clothes don’t seem to match my born gender.
I don’t have to have my decisions questioned because I’m retired.
I don’t have to suffer insults at an intersection because I’m hungry and all I have is a sign.
I don’t have to work three jobs to make ends meet.
I don’t notice suspicious stares when I ask a stranger for help.
I don’t have to defend myself when I kiss my significant other in public.
I don’t have to worry about a clerk watching me when I’m perusing through electronics.
I don’t have to think about employers “losing” my application because of my last name.
I don’t have to keep being passed over for jobs because I did time over 20 years ago.
I don’t have to live in fear or instability because my country is colonized.
I don’t have to defend my body because it doesn’t fit a certain body image.

The fact that I can walk through life relatively easily and that others have to jump through arbitrary hoops isn’t fair. I enjoy most of these advantages by accident of birth and rearing. I didn’t set up these social advantages nor did I work to achieve them. I don’t mind the easy road, but I do mind that others don’t have the same privileges and that access to them is made harder by some. I do mind that some groups of which I’m a part keep other groups from their full potential. Is there a way for me to enjoy these freedoms while not appearing (or being) an utter douche? I think the only way I can is by helping to remove barriers. A friend of mine put it this way: acknowledging privilege, showing empathy to the marginalized (his words were discussing people of color), advocating and participating to remove barriers by many means, and then reading perspectives of the marginalized to hear their voices unfiltered through media outlets and paraphrases by the dominant. Who are the marginalized? LGBT, people of color, those who are poor, those of the working class, those of disability, those of non-majority religions, those who are older, those of radical politics, those who are colonized, those who are prisoners or have been, those of “different” body images, and probably others. What groups have I left out because my privilege affords me ignorance of them?

Want to hear voices different from yours? Here are some. They are not representative of every person in the group because there is ridiculous diversity within each group. Include others I don’t know about.

2 thoughts on “Privilege, or My Undeserved, Arbitrary Advantages

  1. Great to feel empathy, recognizing the disadvantaged need love.
    I wonder the exact definition of privilege here. After reading the first section, one may be tempted to define it as none of the listed articles applying to a person, nor the readers’ implied extended list, e.g. I don’t want to live surrounded by nations who wish my family’s demise. In the next section one may think that living at ease is a key part of the definition, yet I have met Muslims who grew up very rich and easy in their native lands with oppressive intent against non-Muslims. And I’ve seen Elton John’s house on Oprah, and don’t see much hardship there. And so on.
    Then conversely, kind of, I think it might be hard to find a person of which none of the list applies. I was in Sears once and heard the security guard in the next aisle talking on his radio that he’d lost contact with the suspect shopper, as I was kneeling down looking at cell phones out of his view. I’ve been sent home from a club where a going away gathering was held to put on a shirt with a collar. I suppose infrequent applications of the list don’t put one as disadvantaged, but that there must be a line drawn of events per day, or some metric to cross the threshold.
    Living easy is not inherently good, it’s just easy.
    It’s great to veer out of the comfort zone to care for others, but at the first sign of discomfort often make people steer back into the zone. I probably do. I want to be in a category too so that it doesn’t bother me. (Can you put White Angst on there?)

    1. Hi Uncle. By privilege I mean on account of my skin color, gender, clothing and hairstyle, articulate speech, religion, sexual orientation, age, fatherhood, employment status, and other such social markers, I can get away with people not making that many negative social assumptions about me. I hardly receive maltreatment because a majority of Americans would assume I am a decent guy on account of those social markers. Everyone will have certain privileges where they don’t have to work as hard as others to achieve the same results. A black lesbian will have to work harder than a white heterosexual male to make a career for herself, all other things being equal. Perhaps I’m projecting my own community on to the nation- Springfield City Council passed a non-discrimination ordinance where sexual orientation and gender identity was included in reference to employment, housing, and public accommodation. Opposition gathered signatures so that now the policy is void until City Council decides to mute the policy or put it up for a public vote. The fact that I appear quite male and am heterosexual gives me no problem with employment, housing, or public accommodation; LGB and T individuals do not have this luxury. I don’t think token examples within a group overturn that the majority of the categories listed have social obstacles in front of them. Some social markers, like education or religion, can change, but many can’t. It would require influencing public opinion about those markers.

      One category of privilege I didn’t include for myself is mental health. I’m am diagnosed and am medicated for a disorder. If people knew what I had, that would probably affect a lot of social interactions I have, particularly in light of the association of mental illnesses with mass shootings. Maybe I could be brave and broadcast what I have, but I know there are real social consequences to not possessing certain privileges.

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