Contemplating privilege

Often, prompts to consider personal privilege come at awkward times. A person who feels got at and on the defensive is unlikely to want to do any serious soul searching. It is more productive to do it quietly and privately, when you aren’t in the middle of a difficult conversation.

We can’t ask people who have less privilege than us to educate us about how things work and what we need to do to improve. It’s simply not fair, or viable. Not least because one of the most reliable sources of privilege is being in the majority, whereas it is minority people who often experience prejudice and discrimination. Privilege means having some resources and opportunities at your disposal and one of the ways we can use that well is to harness it for some self-examination.

The point of doing this is not to feel guilt. The point is to understand. If those of us with privileges do not understand what we’ve got, we will keep adding to existing problems. We will uphold the idea that we are ‘normal’ and that people without the same privileges are ‘other’. We will feel entitled to what we have, rather than seeing the ways in which we are fortunate. When we really think about our own advantages and how we come to have them, we have to acknowledge the role of luck and circumstance. It opens the door to seeing that often, the more privilege you have, the less you did to earn it. It remains the case that your best shot at being a wealthy person, is to be born into an affluent family.

What advantages you? What improves your lot unfairly? Consider your class background, your race, your level of education (which probably has a lot to do with your class background and race). Consider your health, which underpins your ability to work and earn. Think about what you grew up with, which doors opened easily for you, and what it is that you take for granted. Be willing to feel uncomfortable. There is nothing wrong with feeling uncomfortable.

When you can lay out your privileges, you can move from feeling entitled, to feeling gratitude. This can be a very powerful shift. Rather than feeling you are owed, you will see the ways in which you are blessed. Most of us are blessed in some ways. If you are reading this from a screen, you have blessings in your life.

You may during this process also see where you are not privileged. It is possible to be both. Your race may give you privilege where your ill health gives you disadvantages, for example. Be realistic about how these things impact on you. Avoid seeing it as a competition.

Imagine what would happen if you lost your privileges. Do you imagine that this means being pulled down to an unhappy level? Or do you see it as elevating other people so they have the same rights and opportunities as you? If you believe in scarcity, you may see improving the lot of others as necessarily reducing your share of the good stuff. If you run into such thoughts, scrutinise them. If we are raising people up, no one is disadvantaged.

It’s important to look at any ideas we have that may underpin a desire to stay privileged. Do we think we are better and deserve more? Or do we fear we are not, and that we will be outclassed if barriers are removed for others? Do we just not want to have to change to accommodate other people’s needs? Are we invested in the idea of our own normality? Do we think people are responsible for their own problems; do we blame their choices, past lives, karma, ancestry, intelligence…? Do we think they are just making a fuss and not trying hard enough? If you feel resistance to levelling the playing field, ask what you are afraid will happen. Interrogate your beliefs.

Check your privilege. Do it quietly while no one is watching. Sit with it. Ask it questions. Imagine how life would look without it. Ask yourself how you benefit from inequality. Ask yourself what you can change. Recognise what you have, and practice gratitude, not entitlement.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

4 responses to “Contemplating privilege

  • Brendan Birth

    Asking these questions can often be uncomfortable, but it is so important.

  • neptunesdolphins

    I think privilege is bound up in the ability to makes choices or not. As a white person, I have a vast array of choices. My next door neighbors who are Black do not have the same array. I cannot assume that they can get the housing or live where they want, as I can. When I think in those terms, it helps to understand privilege better.

    Sifting through privilege as a disabled person, I am limited in where I can go and do. However, I do have greater access to health services than do my neighbors because of my race.

    I believe the uncomfortable part comes when I am told I have privilege and therefore must do something about it. My neighbors live 9 people in a two bedroom apt because they want their children (5 children) to go to safe schools, where they can be educated. What I do since I am disabled is to contract with them to do jobs for me so they can have more money and I can have done what I cannot do. I don’t know if this is privilege or leveling the playing field.

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