Societal Privilege is Derailing Goals of Equality

Looking down at my hands, my heart drops into my stomach. Trying to give him the benefit of the doubt I look up, apologize for my mistake and offer to remake his sandwich; to which he replies “are you kidding me? I don’t have time for that, just finish it the way I asked so I can get the hell out of here.” Quickly and efficiently following orders, without a peep until I tell him his total, the only response I get is an eye roll of disgust and sharp muttering under his breath that his meal should be free due to my incompetence. Petrified, I apologized again while staying calm and collecting my composure. All that is running through my brain being what in the world I did to deserve being treated like such vermin.

When it comes to employment, everyone has to start somewhere, and most of us know what it feels like to be emotionally spit on by a customer, especially in fast food or retail. Pondering back on the situation, what amazes me the most is how easy it was for me to feel that any person in the world could have done the job better than me. How could I ever aspire for something more, when I was too dumb to even make a sandwich the way this man, who apparently had never made a mistake in his life, seemed to think I could; without flaw? From his words, actions, and several similar experiences it seemed apparent to me that not only was I too dumb to do one of the easiest jobs on the planet, I was exactly where men like him expected me to be as a woman; making a damn sandwich.

Meme above, is a clear definition on how you feel- defiled.

My point in telling you this story is not to cry about getting my feelings hurt, but to explain that societal privilege can make people feel entitled, and in turn selfishly regrets to recognize that there is another life, or group of lives, suffering because of our own negligence. I am not the type of person that likes to feed off of being a minority, given the only thing that makes me a minority is being a woman. I understand that when it comes to human rights, women’s suffrage is a substantial movement and I know what it feels like to be neglected because of my gender, but I also understand that we as white females have been favored by the all so powerful white male above many other social groups. Additionally, I understand that being white puts me in a category where I am automatically assumed to be overprivileged and entitled in the way that I described the Subway customer above. 

Coming from the lower middle class, basically being a first generation college student, and growing up on food stamps and welfare, these assumptions are infuriating. I know people that have parents who pay their college tuition, and that in no way makes them a bad person or lazy, but I am tired of people assuming that I am just young, living on a whim, supported by “daddy’s money.” I worked full-time for two years before I started college to save as much money as possible. Having real money for the first time, and truly believing in quality over quantity, I chose to buy a few nice things for myself and remind myself that I didn’t have to live on a strict budget forever. But just because I have or buy nice things occasionally, does not mean that I didn’t work hard for them, appreciate their worth, or come from the ground up. 

Well not quite there, but you get the idea.

Privilege is defined as a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people. The part of this definition that I would like to address is “granted or available.” Anyone can look at another person and immediately begin to note physical attributes of their social identity, but these accusations may not completely coincide with how that person identifies or even what should be apparent. Based on our own social status, how we were raised, where we were raised, what language we speak, and what experiences we have encountered additional to, or in result of, the situations we were born into, perspectives vary. The Subway customer saw me as uneducated and unimportant, but I have had, now trusted, friends tell me that until they got to know me, they assumed I was overprivileged and haughty.

Have I always been blessed with a roof over my head? Yes, but to assume majorities wear this badge at all times, is just as bad as saying minorities never do.

It is easy for people to see the surface and judge a situation based on societal generalizations, but this is an act that goes both ways; meaning majority toward minority, and minority toward majority. A lot of people avoid the topic of societal privilege because it is not the most comfortable thing to discuss. Especially when no matter what you say, you are bound to offend someone.  We live in a world that is fighting for minorities to have opportunities and privileges that the majority is so blessed with, but still in the back of our minds, judgement is clouded. There are too many generalizations regarding the human role that overwhelm our everyday society, and make it impossible for people to truly capitalize on just being themselves.

If societal privilege and diversity were taught openly in a safe environment from a younger age, with progression in conversation depending on maturity, adolescents growing into young adult years could more positively address situations in a politically correct way. Society may give us one idea or stereotype of what encompasses a place or social group, but opening minds through accepted discussion can prepare people as a whole for situations that do not sit perfectly with their idea of normality. We may not always see an entire picture, so taking a step back before we generalize a situation or person, is necessary to properly weigh the odds and remove assumption as much as possible. Essentially making equality more prevalent and accepted.

Although there is no excuse, unfortunately this is the world we live in.

-M