Let’s talk about privilege

privilege |ˈprɪvɪlɪdʒ|noun

a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group

Have you heard the phrase “check your privilege”? People use it when they want someone to think about their attitudes in terms of what they assume due to their circumstances that others can’t assume because of theirs. 

Let’s check my privilege.

I am considered by most observers to be fairly neurotypical. This means that, if I get angry about something and want to speak out about it people do not respond to me by saying things like “you are over-reacting because you don’t understand the situation”, “forget your meds today, did you?”. It also means people do not question my ability to parent my own children based on the assumption that neurodivergence makes a person less competent to be an adult.

I am white. This means that, for the most part, I do not have to worry when I step out that someone will make a racial slur at me based on my appearance. It means, in this country, I am not likely to be assumed to be in the wrong because of my skin colour. It means I do not have to worry my children will be targeted because of their skin colour.

I am well educated. This means I have a choice about what kind of jobs I can do and where I work. It means it is easier for me to do more study if I want to in order to improve my work prospects. It means I am able to support my children if they need help with their learning, and I can assist them in making wise decisions about their education.

I am articulate. This means I can hold my own in a discussion in a meeting at my kids schools and I do not have to worry that the teachers I am talking to will assume that I am part of my childs “problem”. It means I can speak my opinion confidently without have to worry people will police my grammar.

I am reasonably slim. This means I do not have to expect jokes to be made about my size, assumptions to be made about how lazy I am, and doctors to tell me that all my health problems are related to my weight and if I were just to eat less and exercise more everything would take care of itself. It means I can walk into clothing shops and find clothes in my size that I like and am comfortable wearing.

I was born in a country where good food, accommodation, health care and education are readily available, and I am of a socio-economic standing that I can access all those things freely. I am by no means wealthy by our societies standards, but I have everything I need. This means I do not have to worry where my next meal comes from, where I will sleep each night, what I will do if I become ill, and more importantly I do not need to worry about any of those things for my children.

All the things I have just listed that I don’t need to worry about are actually covered by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is a sad fact that not everyone has the same privileges/rights afforded to them that I do. It is important to recognise this for a number of reasons, the most basic of these is for peoples wellbeing and safety. Another is because it should be a consideration when we speak to each other.

We need to be aware of where we have privilege that others don’t.

For example, if I am talking to someone who struggles with anxiety I do not say, “just ignore it and it will pass” because they can’t do that. I might be able to ignore my anxieties today, but that doesn’t mean everyone can, and I need to be careful not to shame them for their current inability to do so.

For example, if someone is expressing frustration over not being able to find work, I do not say “just apply for every job in the paper” because that fails to acknowledge that there may be reasons they cannot just apply for a job that might be 50kms from their home and to do so is insensitive when I am not in the position of not having to worry how to pay the bills and feed my kids.

For example, if someone complains that their rented home is freezing and mouldy, I don’t say “so move to a new place” because that assumes they can afford to make a move when in fact they may not be able to.

Of course, there are areas in which other people have privilege where I do not. One example is that most men will never be told they should wear a face full of make up to make a good impression, or that they need to wear ‘modest’ clothes to avoid being raped.

Do you see what I mean?

We need to be aware of our privilege. We need to be respectful of other peoples situations and refrain from applying the same reasoning over other peoples lives and situations that we apply to our own. We need to show empathy and compassion for everyone. We need to listen to each others stories and value each others perspectives.

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