Thursday, March 24, 2016

My Privilege.

Coming to terms with my Privilege. 

I have a lot of privileges.

I have privileges that come from things that I worked really hard to accomplish, often specifically to get those privileges.
  •         I have privileges that come from being a (nearly) tenured faculty member.
  •         I have privileges that come from having a PhD.
  •         I have privileges that come from being a state employee.
  •         I have privileges that come from being a licensed driver.
  •         I have privileges that come from my lack of felonies.
  •         I have privileges that come from practicing my faith.
  •         I have privileges that come from having a salaried position.
  •         Etc

I have earned these privileges and I don’t feel guilty about them, but I do have to admit that earning these privileges was easier for me than for some people because there are other privileges that other people worked really hard FOR me
  • I have privileges that come my parents reading to me.
  • I have privileges that come from having been raised in a two-parent household.
  •  I have privileges that come being raised in a faith-system.
  • I have privileges that come from American soldiers fighting and dying.
  • I have privileges that come from good people investing in me.
  • I have privileges that come from growing up among animals (pets AND food).
  • Etc.

I can feel a sense of thankfulness for these privileges, especially being proud of the people who earned them for me. I can be honored by their sacrifice and hard work to give me a better life. I also have to admit, however, that some of these privileges were easier for them to give me because of privileges that no one had any real control over.
  • I have privileges that come from having north-western European ancestry.
  • I have privileges that come from having male genitalia.
  • I have privileges that come from being attracted to the opposite sex.
  • I have privileges that come from natural physical and mental abilities.
  • I have privileges that come from talents and inclinations that I’ve never worked to develop; they’re just there.
  • I have privileges that come from being born in America.
  •  Etc.

These are the hard ones for me to deal with. One of the first things that I might deal with when confronting these privileges is to first of all deny them.
  • Far more white people are unemployed or struggling than any other group.
  •  Men are also constrained by gender roles that limit our options and behavior.
  •  Gay people don’t have to deal with the pressures of pregnancy or fertility straight people do.
  • I don’t have some of the talents or inclinations of some other people.
  • My natural and physical abilities mean that people won’t help me out.
  •  Lots of other countries/cultures aren’t that fond of Americans
  •  Etc.
That doesn’t work very well because while I have to admit, that those things really are, actually, to my advantage in the vast majority of situations and I can probably avoid those areas where they are to my disadvantage fairly easily. So, my next inclination is to point out areas where I, also, do not have privileges that some other groups have so that I don’t feel bad about the privileges I do have.
  • I was raised in a household below the poverty line.
  • I am overweight.
  • I have a curved spine.
  • I am introverted.
  • I am hamstrung by debt.
  • My particular sect of my faith is not the most mainstream.
  •  My marriage has fertility struggles.
  • I have really wide feet.
  •  Etc.

All that stuff is true, and my struggles are and have been real, but the fact that there are areas where I am not privileged doesn’t mean that there aren’t areas where I am. This kind of balancing act just seems kind of silly. That leads to my third inclination to react to my unearned privileges, and that is guilt. Because of this guilt I’ve done some pretty stupid things like.
  • Place less-than-qualified people in positions where they will fail because they haven’t had my privileges.
  • Tell people their differences don’t matter to me, cutting off an important part of who they are.
  • Talk a lot for these people, advocate, and thereby silencing their own voices.
  • Don’t take or use my privileges: refuse to do the things I can do because others can’t.
  • Completely ignore those outside my privilege zone so I am not bothered by it.
  • Bully other people into recognizing their privilege.
  •  Etc.

That kind of guilt is pretty messed up too and leads to some pretty horrible things. So, what can I do? Well, to start with, don’t feel guilty. Instead, just be honest.
  • Recognize that my privilege probably protects me and probably blinds me, so I need to listen carefully to other points of view.
  • Try to pay attention when I am acting from within my privilege. A lot of things that we who are privileged can do, everyone should be able to do. We shouldn’t stop doing them, but we should pay attention.
  • Try not to judge. This is true both of people who are not as privileged and those who seem to be just as privileged. A lot of this stuff is invisible until it works itself out and I might just be seeing the product, not the process.
  • While I can’t necessarily always use my privilege to build others up, sometimes I can, with their permission, and I should.
  • At the very least I shouldn’t use my privilege to tear other people down.
  • Etc.

I don’t have this all figured out. I’m still messing up. I’m still trying to navigate the whole thing. Still, I really think that recognizing my privilege and trying to live a life where I don’t feel guilty for its existence, or use it to hurt people, and where I use it to help when I can is the best I’ve got right now. Maybe someday I’ll have something better. 

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