Privilege: Understanding the complexities.

The word privilege is thrown around so often, most people don’t take a moment to understand what exactly it means or the repercussions of the use of “privilege” in a society that have so many complex social, economic, and race differences. Is it privilege to be born a certain ethnicity? Is it privilege to be born a male in an oppressed society that undermine the value of women around the world? Is it privilege to be born into a certain socioeconomic world? Privilege, as defined by Google, is “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.” In the end, privilege is the accumulation of all these underlying factors that people don’t necessarily think about in their everyday routines and continue to live in their “privileged” world without considering how that might affect those who aren't granted this special right.

I struggle with defining what the word “privilege” might mean in my world of being a young, Asian-American female who has never really had to face personal circumstances of racism and was fortunate enough to be born in a family that was relatively well off. Perhaps the most relevant form of oppression to me is being a woman in a world that is dominated by men and the social impact it has on my life, and even that is an experience that isn't as extreme as some cases that other women have to deal with . However, does this mean that I can’t begin to understand the struggle of a person who lives in a world that is full of discrimination, poverty, or oppression? No. It’ll just take a lot of learning, communication, and exposure of these instances where privilege has increasingly become a topic of debate due to this backlash of being a white, wealthy, male in media because of all of the shocking and sometimes even dangerous situations that people of color, lower social status, and women have to live in, in a world that was constructed for the former.

Sindelókë, in the article appropriately and comically titled “Of Dogs and Lizards: A Parable of Privilege” provides an excellent metaphor of what it means to be privileged, commenting on the fact that privilege is something that a person should not “worrying about having it, or trying to deny it, or apologize for it, or get rid of it. It’s just paying attention to it, and knowing what it means for you and the people around you.” The article’s examples of white privilege and male privilege are those of which are familiar to me, as I have experienced interactions similar when talking about what it means to be privileged with other people.

The discussion about privilege in social media is used as an insult, a type of joke almost exclusively used to describe “white privilege”. Hastags such as #WhitePeopleProblems or #FirstWorldProblems alone allude to the fact that people are aware of this division of what it means to be privileged, meaning being economically well-off, white, and more often than not a male; however, besides defining moments of privilege, people don’t really do much about it. I think that the use of these “memes” or hashtags undermine the problems that surround being privileged, because people are more willing to pass it off as a joke rather than to think critically about the word and its definition. Perhaps people aren't aware that by jokingly claiming things as a part of privilege, it only fuels the privileged mindset and largely ignores those who are affected by it.

The way the article metaphorically describes privilege was absolutely mind-boggling to me, in way that changed my understanding of how privilege worked: it made total sense that those who are privileged don’t really know the struggle of those who aren't because they've been so accustomed to their lifestyles of privilege and haven’t ever lived anyway else. The repercussions of privilege and being unaware of how it may affect others is described by the article in such a way that resonated with me in terms of understanding people who don’t understand their own privileges. It states that “this specific form of pain, he (they) will never, ever understand — it’s not something that can be inflicted on him (them), given the nature of the world they live in and the way it’s slanted in his (their) favor in this instance. So he (they) doesn't get what she’s (we’re) saying to him (them), and keeps hurting her (us).”

Linking this metaphor of the dog and gecko to a real life instance where a “straight cisgendered male American” may use his privilege to catcall and sexually harass a woman on the street without understanding how it might make a woman feel because of the culture that he grew up in; he does not and cannot feel the same type of stress that women have when this happens to him because he grew up with the the circumstances that never let him be vulnerable to these issues. As the article states, that is male privilege.

I have experienced this male privilege mindset myself, as I’m sure so many other women have in their daily lives when all they want to do is go about their day without having to be the subject of unwanted harassment by men who don’t think they’re doing anything wrong by calling out to a woman to exclaim their attraction towards them. It’s frightening, no matter how nice the man might seem, to be randomly cat called even with some of the more innocent intentions because of all of the horror stories and violent implications that it has to women. In the back of the my mind, I am terrified of the man who has just shouted his desires to “get to know me” or his inappropriate compliments he has on my body. It’s really distressing when I’m alone because I will always be afraid of the man getting up to follow me and going beyond just cat-calling me because I know its a very real possibility. Now, of course in the terms of context it’s different when someone’s just being a nice to you and think nothing harmful of their comments towards me…but in a society where women are plagued by this unwanted attention it’s hard to differentiate the circumstances…so better be safe than sorry, right? There is something so morbidly wrong with the fact that men and women can’t interact with each other without those underlying dangerous that seem to tinge their interactions due to so many continuous events that tell women that strange men are dangerous.

This male privilege is frightening and is so complex in terms of drawing the fine line between creepy and nice. How can we expect equal respect from both men and women when for generations, boys were taught to be and act a certain way simply because they are men. Tackling the problems of being ignorant to privilege can only be done by talking about it critically more and more, in hopes of making people realize the implications of their privilege and the way it may affect the world around them. Below is a meme that pretty much summarizes this idea of ignorance of privilege in a much lighter tone:

Some may think that thinking critically about how their actions or words may affect those around them may be the case of everyone else being “oversensitive”, but that’s exactly what having privilege is. The struggle is being unaware of the fact you have privilege, and even denying problems are problems because you can’t understand the repercussions of not having privilege. It’s not your fault you have privilege— it’s a fact of life. However, that doesn't dismiss your responsibility of being aware of your privilege and how you choose to live your life with it rather than mindlessly accepting it. The article reflects this sentiment by stating:

That’s not a bad thing. Every single one of us has some kind of privilege over somebody. What matters is whether we’re aware of it, and what we choose to do with it, and that we not use it to dismiss the valid and real concerns of the people who don’t share our particular brand.”

If anything, “Of Dogs and Lizards: A Parable of Privilege” has forced me to be aware of my own privileges and also how other people’s privileges affect my everyday life. Perhaps there will be a time, if we all work collectively towards it, that women, people of color, people of poverty, people associated with a certain group, etc., can feel comfortable enough to discuss these discrepancies within society without “the privileged” undermining their concerns because they simply aren't aware of what it means and how they are privileged. It’s important for the progression of equality for all humans that people are aware of their own place in the world what they could do to better it, even with the smallest of steps.

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