Privilege seems to be the concept everyone in the activist community is talking about. Understanding what privilege is and what it is not does not have to be hard. I think, we, as humans, tend to overcomplicate things in our own minds. I also think that sometimes we get so wrapped up in certain concepts we forget the bigger picture.
That being said, privilege exists. I have people I love dearly who have said to my face, privilege is not real. Yes, it is and the sooner we all acknowledge our privilege, the sooner we can move on and actually do something about it.
All of us have privilege.
We all do. Some of us who have intersecting levels of minority status may not feel like we do, but we do.
I’m a white person, for example. While I do not have privilege when it comes to ability, I will never comprehend the complex forms of discrimination endured by those who are not white.
I don’t know what it is like to be afraid when I see a policeman on the street, or to be singled out for my skintone. That is a privilege I have in not knowing how that feels, and I fully admit that.
At the same time, many racial minorities are cisgender. They will never understand the complex forms of discrimination those of us who are trans endure on a daily basis. Cisgender people do not understand what it feels like to have others care about what genitals are in your pants or fear injury if someone were to discover what is there. That is a privilege.
Trans individuals who are able-bodied do not understand what those of us with physical disabilities go through. They have never been unable to enter a business due to steps or narrow doorways and will never understand that. They have never been excluded due to lack of access in relation to their physical bodies (lack of access in other ways, relating to their bodies, but that is a concept for another day).
Understanding privilege goes beyond just acknowledging your privilege. It also involves taking a stand to make things better and reduce the barriers not afforded to those who have no privilege. For example. I was reading a blog several months ago about privilege and disability. One idea was to not go to places clearly not accessible to everyone. I had never considered this. I had always encouraged family and friends to go places without me. It is not their fault the place is not accessible. We live in an able-bodied world. Still, it hurts when they go without me. I can admit that.
BUT…when I thought about it…imagine how much faster equality would come IF able-bodied people refused to go places that were not accessible? Businesses would have no choice but to accommodate everyone!
It makes me think of the local theater in town, The Neon. Several of my friends in wheelchairs refuse to go there. The management claims it is too expensive to accommodate with renovations so we must miss seeing the independent and art house films that come to town. The theater purports to have accessible seating, but I was put in the back next to the trash where people stood in front of me, away from my family. There is also a spot way up front, but it is practically on the screen, and while I had to tilt my chair so far back to see, friends in non-tilting chairs report great discomfort and inability to see.
As a filmmaker, being unable to see films due to lack of accessibility is a bummer. If we all decided not to go there until the theater was accessible, it would most likely become accessible, fairly quickly. That acknowledgement would be a major win over privilege.
At the same time, I think it is important to know our enemies. I have seen so many minority communities disparage one another. We fight amongst ourselves and ignore the greater society that is oppressing all of us. We could gain strength in numbers if we learned to stop oppressing one another. Instead we continue to tear each other up.
I was recently denigrated by someone for a response where I was acknowledging I learned something from someone concerning my own privilege. Initially, I wasn’t weighing in, just acknowledging I had learned something, which I believe is an important step in acknowledging privilege.
I was told to shut up. I was told I was just as guilty as oppressors as I was a part of the community that oppressed. Just by being me I was told I was to blame. I am not the enemy. Yelling at me seems like anger wasted. I know I have privilege. I admit it and I am listening. I did as requested and shut up, but the entire exchange was difficult.
Later the same person, an able-bodied person, posted her commentary on disabled bodies. I could have told her to shut up. I could have told her she was just as guilty as my oppressors as she is a part of the community that oppresses me. I didn’t because I do not think it is anyone’s fault they can walk and I cannot. I certainly would not blame a person for it. I know she is not my enemy. I know she is not the part of society I need to fear.
Know the enemy…greater society.
We need to acknowledge our privilege, but we cannot become so embroiled in policing privilege we lose sight of why and how things need to change. If we do that the only one who wins is our oppressors.