Privileged? Who, me?

When I was growing up, I was taught that all people are equal.  This is a well intentioned but incorrect  thing to teach children.  People are most certainly not equal.

Children should be taught that everone should be equal, and that everyone should strive to make that a reality, but that most certainly does not mean that they are in fact equal.

I’m a member of a group that is at worst the second most privileged group in human history.  I’m a white, American, straight, cis gendered, middle class male.  You could argue that a white, American, straight, cis gendered rich male is more privileged than I am, but let’s be honest: even though I’m “middle class” I’m probably richer than most of the world’s population (I’m far too lazy to research an actual statistic).   

I didn’t hear the term privileged used to describe me until I joined Twitter and found myself following a number of people who talked about the subject a great deal.  Privileged?  Surely you’re talking about someone else!

The term ‘privileged’ has certain connotations for me.  It makes me think of rich kids who went to private schools and got into Harvard because their parents went there.  They probably got a car on their sixteenth birthday and threw a temper tantrum because it wasn’t the right color.  

But that’s not what the word means.  The word privileged simply means that a person has special rights or immunities that other people don’t have.

The problem is, it’s easy for people in my privilege group to think that all Americans are equal (This post is U.S centric, because honestly, American culture is the only culture I’m qualified to speak about).

I grew up hearing about slavery, mass murder of Native Americans, segregation, and women having to fight to earn the right to vote.  These are all things that American children should learn about.

But the problem is, they’re all in the past.

I looked around, and saw none of those things happening any more.  So I assumed everyone was equal now, and when people complained about inequality, I thought it was a bit silly.  Hadn't these people heard that everyone was equal now?

Well, everyone except for rich people.  Those jerks got all the breaks.  I assumed that any remaining inequality was due to class, not race, gender, or anything else.  

Then I started to read about privilege, and realized something important.  Some of the privileges I have are invisible.

For instance, if I get pulled over by a police officer, I can’t get out of the ticket because by saying “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?”  (the response to which would be, “I have no fucking idea”, or “You’re a huge douchebag who is now definitely getting a ticket”).  That’s a privilege others have, but not me.  

But I would not for a second think that the police officer would treat me differently because I’m white.

If I’m walking by myself at night, I generally have no concern for my safety.  This is partly because I’m a male and the thought that I could be raped has never once entered my mind.  It’s also because I can afford to live in a low crime area.  

When you realize you are privileged, the next question that will probably enter your mind is, “So what?  Everyone is privileged in some way.”

This is certainly true.  Just google “black privilege” or “female privilege”, and you will find plenty of white males going on at great length about this.

For instance: a man with children has the privilege of pursuing their career without being made to feel guilty about it.

The counter argument being, “A woman with children who has a working spouse and doesn’t have a job outside the home has the privilege of not being considered lazy.”

This argument can go round and round.  All the arguments I listed are sometimes true, and sometimes not true.  Men with high powered jobs are sometimes accused of being poor fathers because they’re always at work.  Stay at home men are sometimes praised for being progressive and giving their wives the chance to pursue their careers.  Some people think stay at home moms are lazy and just sit on the couch eating chocolate and watching soap operas.

Of course, some families need to have two incomes in order to survive.  The ability for a woman OR man to choose to stay at home and raise their children is a privilege in itself.

For some, the thought of privilege ends here.  Everyone is privileged in different ways, they contend, so for Pete’s sake can we stop talking about it?

No, we can’t.  Just because privilege exists on both sides doesn’t mean it isn’t an issue.  Imagine the following argument, which may very well have taken place when slavery existed in this country:

Argument: Slave owners are more privileged than slaves because they are free and have no master.
Counter-argument: A slave has the privilege of having all their needs cared for by their master.  

Crazy, right?  Yes, it is true that a slave has their needs met by their master (assuming their master doesn’t decide to mistreat them, of course), but the counter argument ignores the fact that the slave is still a slave, and is considered property.  

Let’s go back to the argument about stay at home parents.  Why would a man be considered lazy for staying at home with their children?  Could it be because men typically earn more than women?  And isn’t there a subtle discrimination there that doesn’t see parenting to be “real work”?

Women are exempt from the draft.  That’s because women were (and frequently, still are ) considered physically inferior to men.  Also, there hasn’t been a draft in quite a while and I would be very surprised if there ever is one again, so currently this privilege is pretty meaningless.

The bottom line is, I’ve never felt that my life has been more difficult because of other people’s privilege.  

But here’s the most important thing: examining one’s privilege forces you to think of other people’s situations.  It forces you to consider other people’s feelings.

This is a very, very good thing.

Examining your privilege might cause you to become aware of larger issues.  It might make you an advocate for some of these issues, or to donate some of your money to a charity or advocacy organization.

In fact, I can’t think of a single negative thing that could could come out of examining one’s privilege.  

Except that it might take you out of your comfort zone.  Which, ultimately, is also a good thing.

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