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Aethelflaed's avatar

How do you deal with encountering privilege?

Asked by Aethelflaed (13712 points ) January 23rd, 2012

How do you deal with encountering privilege? White privilege, male privilege, Christian privilege, class privilege, straight privilege, cisgender privilege, able privilege… I’m probably missing some, feel free to add in as needed. How do you deal with it, the prevalence, the denial, how outraged people get when you call them on it? Have you found any successful tactics for getting people to recognize their own privilege?

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18 Answers

tedd's avatar

I’m a middle class white male, age 26…. The only real privilege I’ve encountered over myself was class/monetary (and that’s in multiple races and both sexes). Thankfully I’ve yet to encounter someone with more privilege than I who was a dick.

Of my own privilege over minorities, women, etc… I honestly don’t think much of it. I don’t flaunt it, I don’t think less of those who supposedly have less privilege than I… and frankly I would submit to you that over the last few decades that privilege has dramatically shrunk. I find myself just as in debt and with just as few options in many aspects of life as minorities, women, etc.

On a more political tone, I actually think class warfare will be a great uniter of peoples.

wundayatta's avatar

Hmmmm. On the one hand, I figure it’s the way of things. If you’re wealthy, you can buy me ten times over. But that’s about the one privilege I don’t have. I’m white, male, American, well-off, a property owner, highly educated, married, a parent, articulate, well-read, musical, creative and god-knows-what-else.

But I have fought against racism, immigrationism, sexism, and prejudice of many other sorts in my life. I have had my own personal battles against sources of discrimination, too. I have dealt with infertility and mental illness.

So what do I do? I try to understand. What is the source of the privilege? How does the privilege affect those who are less privileged? What can I do so that the people I interact with who come from less privileged backgrounds do not feel as disrespected by me? How can I honor the struggles of others?

I do not feel it necessary to give back my privilege. I’m not going to pretend to be poor or black or female or whatever. I do think it is important to try to level the playing field wherever I can. I think it is important to look as honestly at myself as I can and to listen carefully when someone tells me I am being unfair.

I don’t feel a need to defend my privilege. I don’t feel a need to apologize for it. I do feel a need to be respectful of others (without being dishonest about it). I am not going to say I am better because I am male or white or whatever. I’m not going to say I’m better at all. That’s a judgement for others to make and I hope they won’t make it.

I’m a person with struggles, just as I think everyone is. Some of us may have it easier on a material basis than others do. But that doesn’t mean our psychological struggles are any less worthy than those of someone from a poor background. In fact, I don’t believe in comparing. We all struggle. I honor the struggle of others. I hope people will respect me, too, although I don’t expect it. I assume they won’t respect me and my attitude is that I am no better than anyone until you tell me you think I’m better than someone. Even then, I don’t buy it.

Just because we start even doesn’t mean I have to like you. I respect your humanity, no matter where you come from. But I will like you if I like what you do, and I will not like you if you do things I don’t approve of. Your background, even if it puts you at a disadvantage, does not excuse you from bad behavior.

Blackberry's avatar

Looking up “cisgender”....

I guess most of time I don’t recognize it? How would I know when I’m being treated a certain way due to such a privilege? Something I do recognize more than often is my “First World” privilege.

I find myself constantly thinking about people that don’t have the choices I have or the life I have due to being born in the wrong place and time.

I think seeing the inequality in society and on earth puts my life in perspective to the point where I feel guilty complaining about certain things. I wonder if it’s a good or bad thing that I could be content with my lifestyle now, when Americans have been taught to always want more. And sometimes I do want more, but I know that I don’t need more, and I’m ok with that, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to give up working for a little more, I just don’t need that much more, you know?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I deal with it by telling it that it exists and that I see it and that I’m not someone who will ignore it or think it is about anything else but power.

saint's avatar

Unless they were my kids, nieces, or nephews (who occasionally need a dose of reality medicine), why would I want to do that to somebody?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@saint Not the least because your kids, nieces and nephew will interact with a world where people have no idea of their privilege.

flutherother's avatar

I remember what Robert Burns wrote:-

The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
The man’s the gowd for a’ that

and I never forget my own privilege.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@saint I don’t understand what you mean. People usually don’t purposefully deny their privilege, they just have it, and refuse to look further and unpack it and deal with it and try to do something about it.

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

I am in a lot of privileged categories. I never perceived it though, it is just the way things are.

It has become apparent to me in the last few years, in a very odd way. I listen to those in the same categories as me complain about wars on Christmas, women and disabled getting the good jobs due to affirmative action, this country losing its character. People in my peer groups seething with resentment. I will sit with the guys and they will complain about immigrants taking all the jobs and we should kick them all out.

The only thing I can think to do is say: “My grandparent’s came from Ireland, during the famine. You bitch about immigrants, you are talking about my people.” That shuts conversation down for awhile.

saint's avatar

@Aethelflaed
Other than to assuage the jealousy of others, perhaps including yours, why do they have to unpack it, deal with it, and do anything about it? If I figure out a way to earn a lot of money (which I have not done yet, but give me a few years), and thus use it to make my existence more interesting and/or comfortable, why should I worry about whether or not you approve?

trailsillustrated's avatar

I think privilege could be in the eye of the beholder?

wundayatta's avatar

Why worry about privilege? Because our own privilege hurts us when we use it to hold down others. The better off you are, they better off you will be when those “below” you become better off. That’s the way the economy works… except most people think it’s a zero-sum game: that you only are better off if you take from others.

That’s a poor understanding of the economy, and yet it is a prevailing model. If we could educate people to understand that the more of us who do better, the better off we will be.

Kayak8's avatar

Reasons for unpacking it and taking a look at it . . . .

I am an older, lesbian (female and gay), with a disability. I never got a choice about unpacking it and taking a look as it comes up rather regularly. Yet, having said that, I am also white. This means I have had to choose to take out my own internalized racism and explore it. I am a native to the US, which also means that I have had to choose to unpack my own thoughts about culture and immigrant diversity and take a good hard look at them.

That is the very thing about privilege—you DON’T have to unpack your thoughts and look at them unless you CHOOSE to. If you belong to a minority group, you really lose all choice in the matter as you are forced to see it every single day. Privilege is the ability to look away without even realizing what you didn’t see.

DominicX's avatar

@saint The only reason I’d find for making someone recognize it is if they’re completely oblivious to it and that causes some form of negativity, such as not taking people’s problems seriously, arrogance, etc.

As for me, I always used to joke that I’m white and male, but gay, so two out of three aren’t bad. I’ve never been non-white or female so I don’t know what it’s like, I can only guess based on people I know. However, I do in a way feel fortunate for being gay in that it gives me a chance to see things from a minority’s point of view. I’m not saying I’d be bigoted and oblivious if I were straight, but maybe I’d be less aware.

Of course, there’s also the whole deal of the fact that I was born into a wealthy family. Now that I’ve been aware of since I was very little…

YARNLADY's avatar

Most people in the U. S. are completely ignorant of the privileges they have over the rest of the people in the world. Our standard of living puts many of us in the top 1% of the world in creature comforts, and it goes entirely unnoticed by most.

Personally, I am thankful that I was born into it, and I take as much advantage as I can, while giving as much as I feel comfortable with.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@saint Because it hurts tons of other people when you don’t. Because you’re not making the world a better place when you don’t. Because you can’t be unbigoted and not examine your privilege. Because there’s a limit to how good a person you can be without dealing with your privilege.

mattbrowne's avatar

By offering support to others who would also like to have more privileges.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

I was raised with a typical American outlook that privilege is what you can make of it. If you’ve got it, you do as @YARNLADY wrote, make the most of it and extend to others as you will. If you don’t have it then do your best as an opportunist to secure yourself and maybe pave the way for someone else to enjoy as a privilege what you brought into being.

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