As I peruse social media, I’ve noticed a lot of talks in regards to privilege. This is a great and important thing to talk about because privilege plays a huge role in societal structures. I’ve also begun to have conversations with friends about privilege. As I’ve had these conversations, online or in-person, I’ve noticed one common theme. People do NOT like being told they possess privilege. I think this comes from the way privilege is talked about. It’s unfortunate that the talk surrounding privilege must cater to those who possess it; however, I still believe shifting some of these talks could be more productive.
First, it’s important to understand that privilege is not a question of “yes” or “no” but more a matter of “how privileged are you?” Society analyzes every aspect of your identity and rewards or punishes certain pieces. Finding a person completely free from privilege would be hard to do, but there are definitely those of us who possess more privilege than others. There are also certain privileges that offer greater advantages than others. If you’re wondering about your own privilege here’s a quiz from Buzzfeed to give you some insight. This quiz is not comprehensive but can help you understand better how privilege works. Now that we have the basics out of the way, here are four things I think we can do to have more productive conversations about privilege.
1. Make the conversations about structures, not individuals
Privilege is not a person’s fault. White, straight, cisgender men are not responsible for years of cultural bias and advantage. Often I see these conversations framed in a way that understandably would make privileged people feel defensive. Make an effort to learn about society and have specific examples to point to where these people gain their privilege. If you want to talk about the pay gap, talk about how the way society encourages men from a young age to aspire to great things in the public sphere while women are conditioned to aim for success in the private sphere. Address how culture expects women to be the primary caretaker of children in a family and then punishes them for the time taken off. That said, ignoring privilege is the person’s fault and it is completely appropriate to call someone out for this behavior.
2. Shed light on lack of privilege
So often the conversations are framed on those that have privilege. I always see conversations calling out men and patriarchal society and standards present in society. These are very important conversations to have and I don’t think there should be less of them. I do think there needs to be more conversations on communities that lack privilege. Not all conversations need to be critical, some can simply be educational. People without privilege are very aware of the lives of the privileged because those with the privilege are the ones that get to share their stories. It’s not difficult to be familiar with the life of middle or upper-class white people as their stories dominate the media. Conversations about privilege are the perfect time to highlight stories that don’t fit into that mold. Let’s spend time talking about people of color, LGBTQ+ communities, immigrants, the lower class, religious minorities, women, or anyone who is underprivileged.
3. Talk about your own privilege
As a black genderqueer person who grew up in the LDS church in Utah, I’m no stranger to marginalization. However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t have quite a bit of access to privilege. Until relatively recently, my parents were married. That gave me a huge advantage over people with divorced parents, and even more on kids being raised by one parent. My socioeconomic status sometimes made it easy for me to forget that I was mostly marginalized. My life has aspects that made existing very hard sometimes but that doesn’t mean there weren’t things that made life much easier. Again, privilege isn’t a yes or no question. It’s closer to a point system. By reminding people that we all privilege in one way or another, people won’t feel so hurt when their privilege is pointed out.
4. Remind People That Privilege Doesn’t Equal An Easy Life
Often I think people miss the point of privilege conversations. People say “you are privileged” and someone hears “you had an easy life.” That is not what privilege means at all. Life is hard. Now that we are in our adult lives, we are all realizing this isn’t really much of a party. Lots of us figured that out much earlier like in high school or middle school. You can have a hard life and be straight, or white, or a man, or rich and so on and so forth. But to pretend you weren’t rewarded for aspects of your identity is ignorant. Privilege conversations are not to minimize your struggle or your pain, because it is very much real and valid. That pain just isn’t related to certain aspects of your identity.
Privilige is a complex thing and it’s been around for a long time. These conversations are just one step of many on the road to dismantling systems of oppression. I hope this article offers some insight on ways we can move forward in confronting our own privilige and educating others on theirs.