Distinguishing between white privilege and privilege is distracting the privileged people. Privilege is well beyond being white. Being white carries centuries of bad behaviour, racism, violence and oppression. I feel the guilt. Yet not all white people have privilege. My experience is that people, including white people, judge a person on what they think their nationality, race and wealth make them before knowing if this is true. I’m white, but I have experience and a voice to use for good. People are intuitively unhappy with the disparity that exists. This is logical, it’s unfair some get and others don’t. Privileged people are the target of this dissatisfaction. If you’re privileged it is your hand to accept this being directed at you. But let’s steer the conversation away from race to an attack on all privilege.
We must examine what it is now, this privilege
It is unavoidable, inevitable, and it’s here. What a huge enterprise a system with the purpose to remove privilege would be. Much time, effort and resistance, we cannot say impossible but intuitively not the best way. Better to focus on creating a level playing field than stripping out what exists. We must accept as our starting point the insane levels of inequality that exist and each ask ourselves what part we can play to level and attack them. Many of us privileged people in the world act as if it is ok. We don’t put substantial time into trying to alleviate the terrible conditions other people experience, when we can, every day of our lives.
Privilege has a lot more to do with wealth
Race and nationality are in the mix, age and gender, but it is wealth inequalities that are the driving force of privilege. The starkest inequalities are in countries where it isn’t about race, but longstanding unequal distribution of resources, unfair systems and people who won’t redress the balance. Yes you, people who won’t share with others you consider not like or as good as you, who opt out for better (private) health care, education, and anyone who doesn’t pay their taxes or is corrupt. Children and old people don’t pay taxes; we are those people. Poor people, sick people, can only hope for systems made by fellow humans that support them to overcome the hand they’ve been dealt. We might be those people in our life times, how would you want to be treated? Cross-subsidising systems will work to benefit the majority of people.
Do you recognise your privilege?
It needs to be acknowledged. Bring your baggage to the forefront. This is the first step for the privileged. Do you know yours relative to others? Reflect on it when life feels hard? Can you separate it from what your efforts alone might have achieved? It is not acknowledged enough; we give guilt and insistence. Don’t ignore, resent or deny it; embrace it, use it for the greater good. Fool you who can be happy in a world where some have much and most little, and you do nothing. I’m scared about being complacent, capitulating, forgetting my privilege. Societies where holidays, ownership of resources, a lifestyle that consumes, wastes and doesn’t focus on contributing to fellow humans are prevalent. They have many of us in their grasp and that should scare us all.
Privilege causes suffering, but we all suffer
This can be confusing. Suffering is relative, and it’s not fair to forget that, to deny those who suffer for others who suffer more. How does need stack up, abused women in Cambridge, in Cambodia, in South Sudan? You might be confident to pick which suffering person you would be if you knew about the detail of each context. But to deny action because we have problems, let’s not go down that road. It’s a slippery slope and before you know it you’ve lost purchase. It is all too easy to use our own suffering as a reason not to find ways to contribute to reducing the greater suffering experienced by others. When you can do something, do it.
How do you use it, your privilege?
Whatever nationality or race you are, if you come from privilege it’s pretty obvious, and you should consider how to use it. Every day. Do you continue to uphold it, or contribute something that seeks to change the institutions that uphold it? Evaluate the performance of institutions, do they uphold negative outcomes or generate sustainable positive impacts? Institutions supporting the people who run them rather than those they were established to support are targets for attack. However using your privilege is the hard part, because it is not easy to know what to do, how to do it. Let’s say we each start by agreeing not to bury our heads in the sand? By recognising our privilege, relative to others, and trying to use it to benefit those who have less.
Don’t judge me on my privilege, judge me on what I do with it!
What you do does make a difference
The worst thing you can do is to deny the impact of your individual action. It matters if you contribute to social and environmental problems, positively or negatively. Global issues are thorny, big and scary, but we must not let them overwhelm us. Being a bystander or sitting on the fence when you can do something makes you complicit. If you opt out when you have the power to enact change you become an enabler. It is hard to do “the right thing,” but inaction will achieve nothing. You don’t need to know the answer today, talk about what you see that isn’t fair and how we might change things. Don’t opt out of the systems built to support us because you have wealth. Be brave and use the hand you have been dealt to act.
The more privilege you have, the more social responsibility you have
You can work to level the playing field, speak of the problems experienced by those with less voice, encourage your privileged peers not to turn away from the overwhelming nature of the world’s problems. You have more power in day-to-day interactions, behave well and try to be a role model. Everyone has a unique gift to give, but not everyone is fortunate to be given the material circumstances in life to look beyond meeting basic needs. It matters if you slight another person, even in a small way, so don’t. Work on your moral compass and take responsibility for all of the actions and interactions in your daily life. It is hard, but also fun and satisfying to be nice and to try to be an agent of social change. Tell people, don’t judge me on my privilege, judge me on what I do with it!
Postscript: I only have my perspective, I may have missed important points that others have made and would influence me to think differently. I deposit my thoughts, based on my experiences and observations, and recognise that they will be different in the future time. We have a short time on this earth, a lot to learn and a lot of information to process. But we all know how to acknowledge and recognise the privilege we have today. It won’t be simple but we must use it for good. I know it’s about what you do with your privilege that counts. It doesn’t have to make us the people we are presumed to be. Let’s try hard everyday to make sure it does not, and let’s all of us also always keep a piece of humble pie in our back pockets.