We’re all special in our own ways, and part of our specialties is people’s privilege.
So essentially we’re all privileged in our own ways.
I wish I could end it there, but we can’t, so let’s plow forwards through this wildness together.
So what is privilege?
Borrowing a (paraphrased) quote from a friend: “privilege is nothing more than the imbalance of power”, for real, that’s super simple.
Though imbalances of power are neither fair nor okay, they’re also not created by a single being, so when someone calls out privilege, they’re not blaming you! And if they are, then they’re wrong, unless you’re the Prime Minister or something.
Systems of power are created by a systemic violence and the enabling of violence, which in itself is an act of violence. The society the majority of us participate in is set around systems that directly serve and protect these injustice imbalances.
This system that we talk about is way more complex than a “simple” patriarchy or system of ageism or even classism. This is a system of intersecting oppressions, and the word for that my pals, is called kyriarchy. Kyriarchy is a system of intersecting (overlapping) oppressions.
Essentially, what I’m talking about unearned advantages. Fundamentally, all advantages that exist, exist because of our ability to compare, in other words, that age old saying that none of us want to hear again: “my plate is less full than theirs”.
So here it is: privilege is an unearned advantage in relation to another person, privilege is created by an imbalance of power within a system that you and others participate in. As for me, I have a lot of privileges, and at the same time, it does not mean I haven’t struggled, I have also had to work with a lot of oppressions.
Here’s some of my privileges:
I am white, I am housed, I am educated, my family is educated, I live in the Victoria, BC which is a part of the global north, I am pass as a non-immigrant (even though I am), I benefit from thin privilege and can easily fit into a white influenced society’s idea of beauty, I am more or less able bodied, I’m cisgender, I am not a part of a minority religion or culture.
At the same time, here are some of my barriers and/or non-privileges:
I’m an immigrant, I am not wealthy, I have pre-dispositions, I am a youth, I am not a man, nor do I pass as one.
Those are some of the things that make me special.
So how do we deal with these dichotomies?
- Accept Your Privileges
Situation: Someone gets bird poop on their shirt, and expresses that you’re fortunate that it didn’t happen to you. They’re not saying it’s somehow magically your fault that they have to deal with the poop and you don’t, they’re not saying they wish it would happen to you too. They are not saying they hate you, they’re not pinning this on you. Because it’s not your fault. But you are luckier, now they have to walk around with a bird poop stain. It’ll look ridiculous. They have a right to be upset.
And most of the time when someone has been crapped on, people sympathize and/or empathize with them, because it sucks getting pooped on.
It’s great to say “Yeah, that really sucks that that has happened. I have stain remover if you need it”. On the other hand you come off as a bit of a jerk if you say something like: “WELL, I have to pick up dog poop everyday, I have to touch it all the time, and I also got pooped on the other day by a big heron, so please, I have it much worse”. Okay let’s be honest, you’d come across like 100% jerk.
- How to Tell if You’re Privileged
An interesting test to do if you’re trying to establish privilege starts with listening. Listen to the stories, because often times people are more than willing to share them. People who live without certain privileges deal are forced to live with certain barriers, and experience different particular realities. Visible people of colour are generally targeted more by the police, as a white person, I’ve never really experienced fear of them, I’ve feared their gun, but I’ve not because I thought I might receive harm due to my how I appear. In this way I do not have to think about that and that makes my life that much easier.
At the same time, I do sometimes fear leaving the house because of the (unwanted and ILLEGAL) harassment I might receive. It’s not uncommon for me to change out of a dress into sweatpants and larger sweater if I know I’ll be walking alone at night. This is something other people do not think about when they get ready to leave their house. Not having to think about certain associated risks is privilege.
- There Will Always Be Someone Better/Worse Off:
Ahhh. . . .
Another old saying that makes me want to poke people in the eye, hard.
But seriously, you will always be more privileged than others, you will always be less privileged than others, you will always be differently privileged than others. Your privilege is always in relation to those around you, your amount, lack and/or difference of privilege depends on who’s more, less, differently privileged than you.
This is simply because everyone has a different body, a different life, and different experiences.
- Not Being Mean Doesn’t Default to “Good Person”
As great as it is that you didn’t whistle at someone walking down the street or you apologized after you made a mistake, that doesn’t make you a good person. Not doing something negative doesn’t make you a good person. Just like saying that since you’ve never burnt Kraft Dinner, you’re a really good chef. Kraft dinner isn’t generally to hard to make (at this time, my sister would be bringing up the point that I once made it with almond milk, it was horrible).
The reason that not being a rude person doesn’t equate to being angelic is because you shouldn’t be doing something bad in the first place. It’s one of society’s standards: be nice. You don’t get a gold star for doing the absolute bare minimum.
Unless you want to be held to such a low standard.
So when people without certain privileges talk about negative experiences with others, ex. street harassment (by the hands of cismen), and the response is: “Well I don’t do that” or “Not all men” and these people expect to get a pat on the back for not harassing another person. That’s kind of ridiculous, like thanks for the clarification, I never said: “All men”.
- “Reverse Oppression”:
On the topic of the not oppressed people getting defended, and using straw man* arguments, such as: “Not all men”. I just wanted to let you know, we got it, we know it’s not all men that are butts. Or commonly, the phrase “Black Lives Matter” being changed to “All Lives Matter” by primarily white folks. This is a really horrible practice and is actually enforcing the oppression of the folks we were trying to defend in the first place.
Using the topic of “Black Lives Matter” vs. using “All Lives Matter”, the reason that the second phrase (“All Lives Matter”) is offensive and is actively oppressive is because, we once again are removing the voice of an oppressed population. The fact that we think it’s okay to say that when they are facing such racism, that we (we being folks that are not oppressed in this way) in a very whiny voice: “Well, my life matters too” is wrong.
Most folks know that all lives matter, that’s why there are anti-war demonstrations and we generally don’t sentence people to death in Canada over crimes (not that the alternatives are awesome or great). The reason the phrase “Black Lives Matter” isn’t oppressive is because at this time, we are focusing on these people, this message they have managed to make famous, isn’t exclusionary, it’s just geared towards a certain situation. The idea is not that anyone who isn’t black is expendable, it’s that black people matter as much as anyone else.
So what happens if people actually do hate the privileged (ie. white people, men, etc.)? Even if you do bump into someone who does think that way, guess what, that’s still not oppression.
Oppression is systemic, it’s normalized and institutional, you can still be prejudice and/or discriminate against privileged people (I mean it’s crappy and not okay but you can) without being oppressive because the decision does not affect everyone of that privileged identity, it does not restrict them, nor does it change how loud their voice is.
I have said this a half billion times, the role of someone in a position of power (and therefore privileged in relation to another) is to lend their voice. The difference between speaking on behalf of someone and speaking for a person or group is simple. Ask yourself these questions:
- “Does what I say actually benefit and/or credit the group/person I am talking about?”
- “Is this a message they have been trying to get out?”
- “Am I talking over them/silencing their voices by using mine?”
A good example of proper activism by hand of the privileged, is the dearly beloved Sir Patrick Stewart (tea, earl grey, hot). With his many intersecting privileges, two of them being white-male, he focuses much of his feminist advocacy on white men. This is because most people relate better to people who look like them, so some (bigoted) white men will only take other white men seriously. It’s incredibly helpful when Sir Patrick Stewart (tea, earl grey, hot) -a white man- talks on our behalf.
Summarized, the job of the privileged is to “get the word out” it’s to act as the megaphone for a minority, be that a person or a group, not the speaker.
So know we know our privilege basics, to whatever level this has soaked in, let’s start being good privileged folks, or maybe this will be a resource that people can use to educate your privileged friends and folks. Remembering the very basics of what privilege is is important. How it works, why it works, what’s enabling it? How do we support others? Ask people, they’ll tell you. So in the future, you find yourself or others about to let a phrase like “not all men” slip from your lips, pause, and just don’t. We now know better, so let’s do better. These are all pretty basic ideas, not too hard to grasp. So let’s apply them and take down the kyriarchy as we do!
*Straw man being a totally weak, sham and typically irrelevant counter argument.
NOTE: None of the photo’s used belong to Project Respect, feature image used is from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (season 5, episode 11). The comic used is the property and creation of Matt Lubchansky. Thanks!