Taking a bit of a turn from my last three articles, the topic I’d like to discuss today applies to all of us. The concept has recently popped up in the news alongside the new health care -TrumpCare plan, in social media when speaking about gender divides, and specifically in Chicago when speaking about the North-South Side segregation. The term I am referring to is privilege.
According to Peggy McIntosh, whites in Western societies enjoy advantages that people of color do not experience, as “an invisible package of unearned assets”, and comes in a variety of forms, namely: race, gender, and socio-economic status. It’s often manifested in the way people are represented in the media, how much representation they have, and the opportunities that different people have to be shown as positive influences. This concept of white privilege also implies that the right to assume the universality of one’s experiences, marking others as different or exceptional while perceiving ones self as normal.
Many people have started commenting on the lack of diversity on many TV shows or movies, the mis-representation of themselves in the news, and the promotion of the rich and the demeaning nature of the poor. It is a given that male actors, athletes, and business peoples get more recognition than women, are given more opportunities than women, and are praised more for their successes than women. The not so broadly recognized discrimination manifests when well-dressed people or people who appear to come from better backgrounds are often often treated better than “lower-class citizens” or .
in an elementary school the black boy is automatically made out to be the trouble maker.
The fact that certain demographics have the most privilege is problematic, but that doesn’t make the people within that group inherently bad. All it means is that they have the most opportunity to use their privilege to level the playing field. People with more privilege inherently have the most opportunities to speak out about their privilege, and have the most support whilst doing and suffer the least consequences.
In general, when a white or other privileged person speaks up about racism and injustices, other whites tend to listen more carefully and respectfully, even if they disagree. More often than not, however, when people of color speak about racism and other forms of injustice, people’s natural instinct is to jump to conclusions, to interrupt, call them liars, question their intelligence, or walk away from the conversation altogether.
There have been multitudes of examples of privileged peoples or celebrities speaking out about privilege and trying to give everyone equal opportunities. Justin Trudeau uses his platform as the Prime Minister of Canada to speak out against racial and religious injustice. Emma Watson also uses her fame as a way to draw attention to the importance of being a feminist with her #HeforShe movement. Zendaya, a disney-star turned social media presence, uses her platforms on Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter to talk about racial and social injustice. We don’t have to do these things on such a large scale, but everyone should be able to be aware of their privileges on a day-to-day basis.
Though starting such a dialogue may be uncomfortable, it’s important to always check ones privilege. Avoiding such conversations does little to push the topic forward and reinforces white privilege. All of us reading have some type of privilege— be it race, gender, or socioeconomic status. We must not only be aware and accept how we may be privileged, but we have to use our advantages to create positive change around us. Let us all feel responsible for the lack of minority representation, for the wage gaps, for the lack of opportunities...you must be the change you wish to see in the world.