Ever since I was a child, I’ve had a tough time dealing with this idea of privilege. Initially I’ve seen privilege from a purely economic perspective, but as I got older, I saw it from other angles as well. And the way I dealt with privilege (or lack thereof, as was the case sometimes) was just..anger. Anger and sadness. Which didn’t get me very far. One of the most profound ideas I have come across to deal with privilege is from Roxanne Gay:
One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do is accept and acknowledge my privilege. This is something I am still working on. I’m a woman, a person of color, and the child of immigrants but I also grew up middle class and then upper middle class. My parents raised my siblings and I in a strict but loving environment. They were and are happily married so I didn’t have to deal with divorce or crappy intramarital dynamics. I attended elite schools. My master’s and doctoral degrees were funded. I got a tenure track position my first time out. My bills are paid. I have the time and resources for frivolity. I am reasonably well published. I have an agent so I have every reason to believe my novel will find a home. My life has been far from perfect but I have a whole lot of privilege. It’s somewhat embarrassing for me to accept just how much privilege I have.
It’s also really difficult for me to accept my privilege when I consider the ways in which I lack privilege or the ways in which my privilege hasn’t magically rescued me from a world of hurt. On my more difficult days, I’m not sure what’s more of a pain in my ass—being black or being a woman. I’m happy to be both of these things, but the world keeps intervening. There are all kinds of infuriating reminders of my place in the world—random people questioning me in the parking lot at work as if it is unfathomable that I’m a faculty member, whispers of Affirmative Action when I achieve a career milestone I’ve busted my ass for, the persistence of lawmakers trying to legislate the female body, street harassment, strangers wanting to touch my hair, you know how it is.
The ways in which I do not have privilege are significant, but I am lucky and successful. Any number of factors related to privilege have contributed to these circumstances. What I remind myself, regularly, is this: the acknowledgment of my privilege is not a denial of the ways I have been and am marginalized, the ways I have suffered.
We tend to believe that accusations of privilege imply we have it easy and because life is hard for nearly everyone, we resent hearing that. Of course we do. Look at white men when they are accused of having privilege. They tend to be immediately defensive (and, at times, understandably so). They say, “It’s not my fault I am a white man.” They say, “I’m working class,” or “I’m [insert other condition that discounts their privilege],” instead of simply accepting that, in this regard, yes, they benefit from certain privileges others do not. To have privilege in one or more areas does not mean you are wholly privileged. To acknowledge privilege is not a denial of the ways you are marginalized, the ways you have suffered. Surrendering to the acceptance of privilege is difficult but it is really all that is expected.
For some reason, that really hit home, and gave me a lot of peace. We all have privilege, we all don’t have privilege. The only thing we can do is acknowledge it and move on. It helps us be grateful, but it also reminds us not to be assholes as well. Because hey, maybe that’s our privilege talking.