Privilege Check

I occupy a privileged position in human society. It is nothing I earned, but something that fell into my lap.

  • I live in the First World.
  • I live in the US.
  • I am white.
  • I am male.
  • I am college educated.
  • I speak literate, standard English.

All of those items translate into a certain amount of deference, if not actual, then expected. As a child I lived in a world in which all of those put me closer to the top of society. All I was missing was the silver spoon.

Each of them translated into assumptions about my motivations and right to opportunity. If I pursue an ambitious goal, I might get a bit of good-natured ribbing, but even those teasing me admired my gumption. I would be thought a “striver”. A woman, or person of color would not have the benefit of that admiration. Instead there would be doubt (often overtly expressed) about their ability or the wisdom of their goal. They would more likely be thought of as “grasping”. Do you feel the difference?

One who strives is imagined as clear-eyed, focused, energetic, overcoming obstacles by his own hard work. The grasping person is squinty-eyed, obsessed, ruthless, helped over obstacles by the effort of others. I would be seen as fully deserving of the opportunity to excel in my endeavor. The unspoken thought for the other person is that the opportunity they pursue rightfully belongs to someone else.

None of us holding a privilege is at fault for having received it, but we must recognize that it is not something we earned, nor is it our right. As my sixth-grade teacher remarked, “when people have had a privilege long enough they begin to think of it as a right.”

Love, and perception,

Stephen

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