Privilege is a very difficult word in this day and age. I know people for whom it is a knee-jerk, automatic sign to stop listening. And I know people who either use it too much, or use it as an excuse for being selfish and narcissistic.
Thing is, privilege is never a universal. Every single person in this world has some section where they are under-privileged, and some section in which they are over-privileged.
What it really comes down to is where do you – the individual – stand in relation to the current status quo. There ARE groups who are consistently under-privileged or over-privileged, but each individual within those groups are not necessarily equally unprivileged or over-privileged.
What are some of those groups? Let’s start with myself, as I am pretty much all over the board in relation to the status quo.
- I’m white. As a white person, the current status quo is skewed in my favor. Some of it comes from history, particularly history of the choices made by the European countries. White people, particularly of certain European ethnic descents, have held quite a lot of power for quite a while now.
Yet, as someone whose ancestors come from Scotland or Ireland (or both), and an assumed amount of German Gypsy (through the mother’s line, same as the Scottish Gordons, so I cannot claim patrilinial membership in either culture), the groups of ethnicities in my bloodline have been fairly consistently on the short end of the stick in the global power plays.
But, I also have Dutch/Saxony aristocracy blood, even if it was likely lower aristocracy rather than royal (or if royal, either a bastard line, or a female line). Which means some of my ancestors did wield power.
- I’m poor. In the current status quo, I have very little power. In fact, in the worldview of a lot of society, I am just lazy and a parasite on society.
Yet, the poor do have power, if they choose to. It is technically considered the “power of the mob.” And, there’s a right way to use that power, and a wrong way. Making your voices heard so they cannot be denied, and speaking truth about our situations is the best way to use that power. Looting, destruction of property, lynch mobs (yes, I’m sorry to say, but every ethnicity has their own variant of the lynch mob – look at the French Revolution, and their response to the French aristocracy), or other “vengeance” on society is not necessarily a good choice. Looting and property destruction, sadly more often affects OTHER underprivileged individuals, rather than those against whom you are fighting. Rebellion is a last resort, just like any other physical punishment. It is not OK for it to be used as one of the first responses to a situation.
- I’m a woman. This one is hard, because it interacts with so many things, and so affects privilege in many different ways.
As a white woman, I am not automatically feared if I am angry, or arguing against something, or stating a problem that is obvious to me. I am not automatically assumed to be the “angry white woman.”
But, I am considered a bitch, a ball-buster, a battle-ax or any other of a number of negative epithets because I choose not be defined in the way a woman (particularly a fat woman) is in our current status quo.
- I’m fat. As stated above, as a fat woman, I am not supposed to be strong, opinionated, independent or refuse to be used like a welcome mat. And because I refuse that definition, I am scary or intimidating to people because of my size. They interpret the leverage and inertia/kinetic motion available to me simply because of my weight and height combination. Because I’m not demure, quiet, sweet or cheerful, I must therefore be a danger to the status quo.
I’m a parasitic drain on society, because I’m supposedly unhealthy and therefore impact other people’s finances, because I’m “not willing to change.” I’ve stated how much exercise I’ve done in my life, and the changes in diet I’ve made. And yet, it gained me NOTHING until I was nearing menopause.
Not just that, but as a fat person in general, I am again lazy, gluttonous, sloppy, have a severe “eating disorder,” and no willpower. I defy you to tell me I have no willpower, given that I kept committing myself to “taking care” of my ex-husband. Even with the active gaslighting, it still took an extreme effort of will to stay in that situation. I kept asking people “when do you know it is time to give up?” And while most of the answers were good ones, it wasn’t until I was forced to choose between death (figurative and literal) and life that I was able to quit that commitment. Choosing myself ALSO took an effort of will.
As for the rest, I’ve stated before how I’ve kept myself as healthy as possible in body, even WITHOUT medical insurance or regular doctor visits.
- I’m educated. Technically, as an educated person, I am part of the status quo. I’m somehow elitist because I have natural curiosity, and I find learning both somewhat easy, and I want to continue learning until I die.
I am assumed to look down on someone who does manual labor or who works in a blue collar job. It doesn’t matter that I did blue collar work when I was young, or when I was even in my late 20s until I was injured. It doesn’t matter that for a good portion of my life working white collar jobs, I ended up still being in a powerless role. It doesn’t matter that I physically cannot do most blue collar jobs.
- I’m disabled, both mentally and physically. After so many years of abuse, my ability to think and to be rational is not as consistent as it has been in the past. I’ve lost cognition, sometimes to the point of complete blankness when I have over-worked or over-done in some other way.
I’m physically disabled by assorted different problems. I can’t walk long distances without support. I can’t stand longer than 5-10 minutes at a time without support. I’m in constant pain that requires narcotics in order to be able to have any kind of so-called normal life. (Narcotics always have a mental impact as well).
Some of these things mean I have privilege. Some of them mean I don’t. No one is ever ALL one thing or the other. So, next time you get defensive about it (whether you are being accused of being privileged, or are defining yourself as under-privileged), take another look. Look at those places in your life where the status quo works for you, and look for those places it works against you. Stop assuming other people are living perfect lives.