Privilege is a weapon: Use it wisely

Privilege in defined by Merriam-Webster as “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people”. It’s most often thought of in terms of “white privilege”, which is the belief that being White comes with unearned privileges and benefits that are not available to people of color.

There are many types of privilege, including socioeconomic status, height, weight, attractiveness, gender, religion, sexuality, physical ability and the ability to “pass”. It is up to each individual to determine his or her level and sources of privilege and to determine what to do with it.

You see, I believe that privilege is a weapon and like any weapon, it can be wielded to wound or to protect. Privilege can be blindly used to provide personal gain and benefit or it can be used wisely to help others.

For instance; I have a Ph.D., which gives me educational privilege. While I could easily use the title to benefit myself, I tend to avoid using it unless it can benefit others. As an example; I rarely use my title for myself but I will use it when I write a letter of recommendation or when I engage in community advocacy because I realize I have a level of access, credibility and that “doctor” automatically positions me in a different way.

Those who benefit from White privilege can use their privilege in similar ways; by choosing to use their privilege consciously and acting in ways that support people of color. One way to do this is by speaking up and intervening when people of color are having difficult conversations. Another way is to call out other white folks when they are engaged in racially insensitive behaviors. A powerful way is to use your body as a protective shield for people of color at protests, rally’s and marches like this guy did.

Gender privilege can be wielded the same way; it’s the conscious male who advocates for his female colleagues to receive fair and equitable treatment, who names sexism when he sees it and who refuses to engage in toxic masculinity.

Religious privilege can also be handled the same way; the best example I can think of is when Christian’s in Egypt locked hands and surrounded a group of praying Muslim’s. It was a beautiful display of unity and a perfect example of how a group can use their privilege in service of another.

Having privilege in and of itself is not a bad thing; it simply is what it is. It’s not something a person asks for, nor is it something a person earns or deserves and it’s not something that should provoke feelings of guilt. It’s how you use it that matters. Take some time to self-reflect to recognize your privilege, and see which ways you have unconsciously benefited. Then, make a conscious choice to change how you show up in the world and begin to wield your privilege in service to humanity, rather than service to self.