Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Facing the Plain Ugly Truth about Privilege

Who's missing from this picture?
Privilege. The driver of so many social ills plaguing our communities. It benefits historically-included groups while oppressing those that have been historically excluded. Yet privilege can be a tool for change. First the down side.

              One of the damning aspects of white privilege, for example, is the vehement denial that it even exists. This assertion of its non-existence would be laughable except that like other forms of privilege, white privilege operates in stealth mode. It runs in the background of our culture (at least it does for people with white skin). And it’s hard to scrutinize something you can’t see.

              A few individuals here and there make the farfetched assertion that white skin guarantees an easy, prosperous life. That of course is ridiculous. However it does carry certain unearned social, political, or economic benefits not afforded persons of color.

              People with white skin aren’t the only historically-included group. Those of us who are nondisabled (and I'm one of them) benefit from arguably the most insidious unearned privilege operating today. It’s certainly among the most potent. Nondisabled privilege is so powerful, we who possess it have essentially rendered invisible those persons with disabilities. And it’s criminal.

              Historically we’ve isolated, institutionalized and even sterilized persons with disabilities, against their wishes. Then we claimed it’s all in their best interests. Bullshit. It’s for our own comfort and convenience.

Not thinking about certain things can be a privilege.
              That’s the heinous thing about privilege: it implies the right to assume a delusional righteousness of our own experiences, casting others as different or even deviant while arrogantly viewing ourselves as normal. Now isn't that a mouthful?

              What's more, you don’t even have to be in the majority to hold privilege. Case in point, male privilege. Woefully, I also claim membership in this historically-included group, which consistently engages in intentional and unintentional policies and practices that demean, demote and degrade women.

              And because it has endured throughout history, much of that oppression has come to feel like part of some twisted “natural order”. But it isn’t. Just ask a woman.

              Then there’s the nonsensical insistence by more than a few who are part of historically-included groups that insist they are the ones being oppressed or discriminated against. To prove their point, individuals cite instances in which they personally experience discomfort. But what they’re feeling much of the time is equity.

The natural order of things isn't natural
              Examples of this equity include municipal regulations for accessible public spaces for the disabled, food stamps for the poor, and affirmative action for women and persons of color.

              Though such policies that seek to level the playing field are needed, they often are rejected as unjust by people accustomed to their privilege. Or misunderstood as handouts. Again, the culprit for this individualistic thinking are the socially invisible characteristics of privilege.

              In some ways it’s almost understandable why so many among historically included groups play the victim card. They/we are used to having our own way every day. It just feels right and natural, even though it’s wrong and artificial.

              Mass media (i.e., television, radio, newspapers and internet news sites), fueled by social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and You Tube provide ever-growing opportunities through which historically-excluded groups may share more regularly their experiences.

              Despite being a relative drop in the bucket in terms of awareness, it’s getting harder and harder for historically-included groups to remain cocooned in their often self-imposed ignorance of glaring inequities.

If you see something, say something
              “Privilege” is a term one that chaps the hide of many individuals within historically included groups. Invoking the term often triggers defensiveness and can shut down conversations. Especially among those who grew up under less than desirable circumstances.

              Yet as more people with privilege become aware that they have it, some are beginning to use it in ways that seek to interrupt social inequities that exist. How? By speaking out.

              If you’re part of an historically-included group, use your voice to point out oppression. It’s the greatest privilege of all. 

Follow J.R. on Twitter @4humansbeing or contact him at 4humansbeing@gmail.com.