COMMENTARY: Ignorance of privilege leads to dismissal of others’ rights
My stomach was churning watching the polls with some of my friends — Christians, Jews and a Muslim. We all came in with our homework and sugary, caffeinated beverages so that we could be academically productive whilst awaiting the fate of our nation. The general consensus was that Hillary was going to win the electoral vote, but we all had that subconscious fear, that “if” factor. Votes were slowly coming in … I had this light-headedness about me as the minutes went by. It only got worse. We left the room at about 1 a.m. with our heads low and our hearts heavy.
I made a status on Facebook at 2:14 a.m. that read, “I am so ashamed and so sorry that such tragedy has fallen upon the American people. My heart is so heavy. God help us.” Afterward, the rebuttal of a vocal Trump supporter graciously entered the comments under my post. We got into an argument via Facebook commenting — childish behavior I rarely engage in — about how to define privilege, who has privilege and what it entails. He was insulted that I “assumed” he was privileged when I know “nothing” about him. Here is my message to the masses:
Privilege isn’t about you alone, or him alone, or her alone or them alone. Privilege is a story of the masses and is the product of an entire system at work that disadvantages certain groups of people. I will point to an academic source to further explain. As Maisha Z. Johnson describes in, “What Privilege Really Means (And Doesn’t Mean) – To Clear Up Your Doubts Once and For All”
“Privilege is not about individuals being bad people, but it is about entire systems that favor some groups and put down others. These systems — like ableism, white supremacy and classism — get structural support from laws, the media and policies that affect our lives every day. Most of us aren’t taught that these systems are such an influential part of how the world works. We learn that everyone can work hard to earn rewards, pull themselves up by their bootstraps to gain wealth, and be a decent person to get respect. So finding out that your privilege gives you a head start in achieving these things can be shocking — it challenges what you’ve always thought to be true. That’s why, to a certain extent, it makes sense that you haven’t always been aware of your privilege and even that it’s hard to get used to the idea of having it. The thing is, I’m not required to be aware of ableism or even how I participate in it, in order to survive — which is part of my able-bodied privilege. I can do things like find housing that accommodates my physical needs without worrying about potential landlords discriminating against my ability. But thanks to the hard work of disability advocates, I know that the system of ableism exists — so if I don’t commit to learning about and intentionally avoiding it, then I’m probably unintentionally causing harm.”
Trump has no personal investment in breaking down these systems of oppression, but instead he profits from and perpetuates them. A person who votes for this man is thereby “unintentionally causing harm” (or consciously, to each their own). You can like his policies, or the ways he describes women or Muslims, but you cannot assert that they don’t correlate with violating basic human rights. Open your eyes.
This isn’t me hating privileged people, but it’s me condemning ignorance. I’m white, probably the most protective identifying marker a person can have other than being a white cisgender male, but I recognize what my inescapable privilege grants me in this lifetime and I will never undermine other people’s struggles for fear of my own pride. That is not what this country needs nor is it a benefactor.
Your pride and denial of your privilege may make it easier to look yourself in the eye. Your lack of formal education on the subject might otherwise inflict a sense of guilt you may not be able to handle. But remember that your active denial drives another person’s basic human rights 6 feet under the longer we do nothing to equalize the playing field. It’s not about you, it’s an entire system that determines our fates. Ignorance is bliss to you and is hell to others.
Before the night was over — a hollowness in my chest — I looked the boy whom identified as Muslim in the eye and inquired, “What are you going to do?”
“Wait,” he said, “… if the white-lash gets bad, my mom and I are going to discuss the next step.”
Emily Kadosh is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in psychology.
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