I often wonder why the term privilege is offensive to so many people. What is it about this small word that makes people’s defences go up? Could it be because most people really don’t understand what it means or just how much they actually have? I really like this definition from the Cambridge English Dictionary, privilege is “a right or advantage that only a small number of people have”. Let’s examine what this means in reality.
The most common reference to privilege that people talk about is “white privilege” but there are many types of privilege. This phrase evokes strong emotion because many white people feel that they are not privileged as their lives are not easy. However, what the phrase is highlighting is the fact that despite their lives not being easy, their lives were not made more difficult due to the colour of their skin.
Another form of privilege relates to financial status. Here are some examples of things that reflect your financial privilege. You have an income, are able to pay your bills on time and you can afford to buy healthy food. You own or have access to a private vehicle. Some might not have considered these things to be a reflection of their privilege, but if you are honest with yourself, you will realize that you have access to things that many people don’t.
If you have never had to have the “Other” talk with your children, you have privilege. For those who don’t know what I am referring to, let me explain. If you will have no need to talk to your children about how to stay alive during an encounter with law enforcement, count yourself privileged. People of colour in majority white countries and those of lower economic means do not have this luxury. Our children often get this talk for the first time before they reach the double digits. The conversation is a constant in homes thereafter, even more so once they start to drive.
If you have access to quality healthcare, education and clean water, yes you guessed it, you have privilege. The same obtains if you live in a place where you feel safe; you don’t have to fear bombs falling on you every day. If you can walk on the street alone without fear after the sun goes down…privilege. So many people cannot do this. If you are a woman and you are able to obtain a driver’s licence or attend school, that is a privilege. There are places where women are not allowed to drive or get an education.
I am sure you don’t want me to continue to belabour the point. I know, you get it now. So, what am I getting at? If you examine your life, you will find that there are areas of privilege and the key is to recognize them. You don’t need to apologize for it. It is a blessing but you need to use it to make others’ lives better, not worse. If someone else calls you out about it, don’t take offence. Instead, listen and learn and see how you can use that privilege to help.