SAJU: Benefits from privilege come with duty to extend gains to all
Opinion Column: Pride, Not Prejudice
Privilege is the idea that some people benefit from advantages that are unearned and are, for the most part, unacknowledged. An individual will have privilege in at least one aspect of their identity: race, skin color, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, religion, socioeconomic background, mental wellness, physical ability, physical appearance and/or immigration status.
Privilege is the understanding that the identities of some people are supported and reinforced while the identities of others are invalidated and discredited because of inherent societal oppression. It is an unavoidable truth in our society. Having privilege does not necessarily make you an entitled person, but ignoring the needs of someone with different experiences does make you an insensitive one. The more that people deny their privilege, the farther away we get from achieving a more equal nation.
The “American Creed” is a promise rooted in the ideologies of the American identity: democracy, freedom, equality and opportunity. It reinforces the idea that being born as an American citizen makes you the inheritor of these ideals as well as a continuation of the system built by the founders of this country. Being born in this country, growing up here, and/or being educated here affords an individual a certain amount of privilege. But, this foundation does not guarantee liberty and justice for all.
Having privilege means having power, and using that power to benefit others means understanding and accepting that other people have to face more obstacles to reach the same destination. There are tough conversations that some people have at a young age that their peers will not have to concern themselves with.
Adolescent girls are often warned against dressing suggestively. Kids of color are taught how to deal with racist comments and interact with law enforcement from a young age. Children that grew up in poverty understand that they may not have the chance to do extracurricular activities because team uniforms and music lessons all cost money. There are people that grew up having to deal with some of these realities. There are also people that grew up having to deal with all of them.
Acknowledging that you may be unaware of someone else’s struggles does not mean you are ignorant. Oftentimes, there is a negative connotation attached to the word privilege. The negative privilege mindset usually categorizes history between the oppressor and oppressed. When an individual is accused of not checking their privilege, they will point to an instance when another one of their identities was at a disadvantage. But, engaging in an identity war yields no real social amelioration — an equal playing field cannot have a moral high ground. Besides, pointing out injustice does not always have to come with undertones of blame.
Acknowledging a patriarchal society does not blame every single man. Understanding white privilege does not accuse every white person of being a racist. Identifying a heteronormative culture does not seek to shame every straight person.
Christine Emba said it best: “A request to acknowledge one’s privilege is just a reminder to be aware — aware that you might not be able to fully understand someone else’s experiences, that the assumptions you were brought up with may be blinding you, that some people may have to struggle for reasons foreign to you.” When privilege is ignored, it can easily manifest into entitlement. By taking a positive mindset on privilege, it is understood that one has the responsibility to assist people who are at a disadvantage. Only when privilege is acknowledged can a nation begin to address its problems and better serve all of its citizens.
Moreover, recognizing that you benefit from unequal society does not mean apologizing for an identity you have. Privilege is not asked for, but it is not something that is earned either. When you have an unintentional leg up, make sure to extend a helping hand back.
Neha Saju is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student planning on majoring in political science and history and minoring in English. Her column, "Pride, Not Prejudice," runs on alternate Mondays.
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