I am writing this as a privileged, straight, white woman living in a Western country. I have two degrees. I live in a nice neighborhood and was brought up in a single parent home. I have chosen to address the issue of privilege, because I am sick of us, and our government representatives,’ skirting around the issue of privilege and the racism and discrimination it breeds. Privilege exists! Racism exists! It is not the currency of the few but the monopoly of the many. It is so deeply embedded in our culture and in our institutions that those of us who are privileged barely notice it.
For those of you who are not aware of privilege, here are the categories, which affords or doesn’t afford you privilege:
Privilege is inherent – some of us are born into it; others acquire it; some of us are privileged in one area but not in another; and some us will never have it.
I’m white (awesome), a woman (less awesome), I’m working class (hmmm), I’m straight (good), I have two degrees (better), I was born in the UK (winner), and I was brought up in a single parent household (not so good).
I am privileged in a lot of ways – being born white is the biggest privilege one can have – but I am also a working-class woman, which definitely does not make me privileged.
Compared to a gay woman living in Ethiopia, I have won the lottery, but compared to a straight, white, middle aged man, earning over £70,000 a year, I am severely disadvantaged.
It is all relative, but what should not be dismissed is that if privilege exists for you… it undoubtedly is absent for someone else.
If a white man walks down a street in London, it is doubtful he will ever be stopped and searched by the Police. If a black man does the same, the likelihood of being stopped and searched by the Police increases dramatically. Statistically black people are stopped and searched at just under 3 times the rate of white people across London. (Stop Watch, 2014).
Privilege is complicated and cuts across all demographics and is responsible for a lot of the injustice we see played out on our TV screens.
Like all of our ugly and horrible truths, privilege is rarely talked about, and if it is, it’s because one group (normally the privileged group) is telling another group (the non-privileged group) that privilege doesn’t exist.
Brushing it aside or pretending it doesn’t exist clearly isn’t helping; it is actually hindering. Lack of privilege kills people.
The reason Sandra Bland is dead is because she was not part of the privileged, white majority group. I guarantee you that if she’d been a white woman, she would never have been pulled over by the Police, let alone arrested.
The Steubenville high school rape case in 2012 shows the extent to which privilege can not only play a role in a crime, but also in the aftermath of that crime. The two high school football players are part of the privileged male majority group whereas the victim, a young girl, was part of a non-privileged female minority group.
No one wants to admit that the colour of his or her skin or their gender or their sexual orientation or their class entitles them to special treatment.
For instance, my family and I have been harassed and stalked for a year by our neighbor whose husband is a policeman. There is no doubt in my mind that if my father had been living with us, then this never would have happened. I also have no doubt that if our neighbours’ husband was not a policeman then the police would have taken appropriate action.
Privilege rarely works in isolation; there are usually multiple privileges at play.
So what’s the solution? How can thousands of years of institutionalized and embedded privilege be overthrown/ripped up from the ground, and the seeds of equality sown?
We could start by actually talking about the problem and acknowledging that some of us are awarded privilege whilst others are the victims of that privilege. I am not asking you to feel guilty for what you were born into or what you acquired, because guilt has never gotten us anywhere. But what I am asking of individuals, communities, Police, government, and countries is to be self-aware of their privilege and to act justly.
So the next time a Policeman sees a little black boy playing with a toy gun, he makes the decision to treat that little black boy as he would treat a little white boy; as an innocent child not as a hardened criminal that needs to subdued.