One of the trickiest things about squaring up to your own privilege is that the very nature of the thing makes it hard to spot in the first place. Privilege is the stuff we assume is normal and take for granted and don’t realise other people might not have. Many of us won’t see ourselves as privileged because we see all too well the ways in which we are struggling.
Recently I discovered just how much toilet privilege I normally have, and this was an eye opener. A couple of health issues combined to make it hard to get on and off the loo. Managing your own continence is such a basic thing, so easy to take for granted and not notice. But for many people, that’s not a temporary problem, that’s daily life. Those of us who can use the loo independently and with little trouble won’t see that as privilege because it just seems normal. Most of it works this way, give or take.
However, having more privilege does not mean any kind of increase in the ability to spot it. Those who have most seem to take for granted their level of wealth and comfort. The idea that what we have is fair, deserved and appropriate becomes really problematic when we’re talking about people who have far more than their fair share. Rather than see themselves as advantaged, the richest amongst us seem to see those who have least as failing in some way and personally at fault for their circumstances.
The more you have, the harder it may be to empathise with anyone who has less. People who have experienced hardships and losses of the things they might otherwise take for granted at least have some basis for understanding what others may be going through.
We have people with such extreme wealth that they could personally fund the solving of the world’s biggest problems. They could end hunger and homelessness and sort out climate chaos. I find it hard to imagine that a person could have that level of privilege and fail to see it.
For most of us, an exploration of privilege is going to mean thinking about things we take for granted that other people don’t automatically have. It’s a useful subject to explore, especially on your own and when there isn’t someone who is suffering and being obliged to educate you. Any setback is an opportunity to think about what life is like for someone who is stuck with those issues all the time.
Ideally, the process of understanding privilege is about finding ways to give more to those who have less. For most of us, it’s not going to be about reducing our own privilege, but seeing how we can extend those same privileges to others. There comes a point however, where a person has so much wealth and privilege that what they’ve accumulated is actively harming others. Rather than celebrating extreme wealth, we need to start challenging it, and recognising that there have to be limits to how much privilege a person should have.