Privilege: invisible social and societal advantages
These days everyone has heard of privilege, notably white privilege. Many are even scared to use this word, because it put some people on the defensive. They may argue they don’t have privilege as they weren’t born into a wealthy family. But that is just a visible privilege. There are many other privileges such as white privilege and able-bodied privilege. The best way to describe it is that having privilege doesn’t mean that your life wasn’t hard or that you didn’t work hard for what you have it just means that your skin colour or a disability didnt make it HARDER. Because what one considers a hard life or hard work is all relative and it is often relative based on privilege. It may be a hard pill to swallow that simply being born a white, straight and able-bodied relatively healthy person already means you have several privileges, but you likely will not see them, because only people of non-privilege see them as a result of their daily struggles just to survive, not only with the same problems you face daily, but a hundred more weighing on them, from dealing with and fighting government systems and laws, to workplace discrimination (or difficulty in finding and keeping the same type of jobs that a white healthy person has all the opportunity to get), and unfounded societal judgement, and so on and so forth.
White privilege: most are aware of this by now. It means that your skin color isn’t considered a crime to some. It means you won’t be suspected and mistreated in the same way. You don’t have the same risks. You have an equal chance for gainful employment with all employers. As Doctor Mike points out in his video regarding protests (shared in a previous post), one’s zipcode is a bigger factor in getting disease than one’s cholesterol levels. Etc., etc. I’m sure you have seen both the arguments explaining white privilege by now as well as comments trying to completely deflect from the issues at hand. One sad story shared on Tiktok under #BLM was a deaf black man saying he fears a police officer encounter as he won’t be able to hear what the officer says and his sign language can be misinterpreted as gang signs. This is an example of someone who has a double disadvantages (privilege wise) if met with a discriminating officer: his race and his disability. He also has the additional stress and fear of not being able to look to the police for protection and peace if needed, but rather fearing the police in a free country.
Here is Ashton Kutcher calling out, “All lives matter” in a tearful point.
And a cartoon to help explain the problem with All lives matter vs. Black lives matter
Here a white woman discusses White fragility, when one gets defensive when being told that they have privilege or about being called out on having said something racist. She also admits how she grew up thinking the world is her oyster, that she can get almost any job if she works hard enough for it; another privilege that not everyone has due to race, disability, etc.
Of course there are other marginalized and vulnerable people such as the disabled who are struggling and suffering beyond our idea of struggle normally and especially in a health crisis and financial crisis. So I think it is fair to bring up vulnerable minorities. Because we should expand our hearts to all human sufferring and struggle and those who are vulnerable and to give more voice to the voiceless, especially those in urgent need during this crisis, but also for all long-term.
Able bodied privilige- this is less heard about as generally disabled and chronically ill persons with invisible disabilities, due to mental and physical barriers are the least squeaky wheel which is why it is important to help give a voice to the voiceless. By many they are not considered as productive members of society, even if they want to be, and can be, simply because most workplaces are not adapted to their limitations, though they have a lot to offer and the willingness to work. Workplaces, society and government systems generally add access for disabilities etc as an afterthought. To operate under the assumption that they dont deserve more of society’s help to get on their feet, if they haven’t contributed as much in the work force (when the design of the workforce is ableist and catered to able bodied people) is to operate from a place of able-bodied privilige rather than seeking understanding for their challenges with work and how can society try to make things more accessible or even remote (as in 2020 this may become more of a trend as many businesses and governments realize that many jobs can be done mostly remotely, and essentially for those with limitations, at one’s pace). To assume that because there are some few jobs that give access to those with disability and that should be enough, when there are serious challenges with the majority of the workforce, is coming from privilege as a able bodied persons that can get any career they deserve and work for. To say that the governments have done enough progress in changing old laws and policies to be less discriminatory and include all people, is to say that there is nothing left to improve, and is again privilege (white privilege, able privilege,etc, they are really similar). To say that there is some small help out there for them is to throw the hot potato over to someone else, or another part of the system to deal with it and not acknowledge the rest of the gaps and issues. This is a long-term problem, but especially in a crisis these vulnerable people are more at risk and cannot be neglected and just passed on to someone else or some other system to deal with, because in the end there is very little help for them. Here is a TED talk on able privilege and as the speaker says, it actually overlaps greatly with white privilege; an invisible advantage in society. I think as society we should strive to help vulnerable people so that one day hopefully won’t need society’s help as much if at all, rather than keeping them in a vicious cycle and socio-economic holding pattern of constant fear and struggle where many just get worse-off instead of better. They may also end up contributing to society much more in the end when given a proper chance, rather than requiring long-term support.
There are, of course, other privileges such as male privilege and heterosexual privilege, and I cannot get to them all today, so I’ve focused on what I think is the most pressing in the crises we are facing. I think in general, just thinking of marginalized people who are hard done by helps to avoid abusing any of these privileges.
Overall for the sake of all marginalized people, it shouldn’t take a murder or a crisis or a violent protest to realize that something is wrong and that some people are being awfully hard-done by in society and life. So as humanity we should strive to lend a voice and help these people out of their hardships to have a normal life free of discrimination. (Of course the means of help, is going to differ for different groups of people, for example someone with a disability needs more financial assistance and work accessibility for their barriers, someone of color may need reform and additional education in the police system to have less police injustice, safety and support in impoverished areas, etc). All marginalized groups need more funds for advocacy to give them an effective voice by advocates who understand the law and their rights, and there are fundraisers for this for BLM right now. There are too many different circumstances to rail off each one, and as a Canadian I am not equipped to talk about ghettos or the struggle of African-Americans in the States, but here it is just about recognizing privilege and privileged ways of thinking, talking and creating systems around privilege). Everyone has to do their own credible research, but most of all listen to those afflicted and not invalidate their struggles by simply deflecting and focusing on one small part of the issue (such as the looters who are a small percentage of the protesters, yet the centre focus of the media, though they don’t represent all the peaceful protesters and activists out there.)
Perhaps with the extra time most have now we can use this to educate ourselves and help or advocate for those who need it for less discriminatory systems and more inclusive workplaces, etc and a more inclusive world. To me an evolving society will be one that seeks tolerance and understanding even for circumstances they cannot truly understand as they have not lived them, rather than judging what is unknown to them. And that is why it is being stressed now for all of us to Listen and Learn from the oppressed. This of course means letting go of our assumptions and prejudices and truly wanting to hear the struggles of the vulnerable minorties, and that is not an easy feat, as many prefer to deflect from the argument. But perhaps we need to be uncomfortable for a bit to hear the truth of someone who has been excruciatingly uncomfortable and in pain for a lifetime due to social constructs of the status quo.
The first change starts in the mind and how we perceive and value people’s lives. At the end of the day though, for anything to change in government, letters and peaceful protests are needed. But we should care not to attack or damage the lives of innocent and often also vulnerable and marginalized people such as the homeless, people with disabilities and illnesses, immigrants, and poor people who are already hard done by in life, especially this year, as is being done now in America due to violent protestors. We cannot have narrow-vision now of only BLM and destroy the lives and poor communities of other marginalized people, including black people. We cannot just use anger in a destructive way (and I can understand somewhat black people boiling over, but privileged white punk looters or opportunists using and misrepresenting BLM in all the wrong ways and not realizing who they hurt (and what unknown struggles these innocent people have), including marginalized and ill people in public houses and poor communities, is wrong and many black activists such as Desiree Barnes calls out these looters (her video is in a previous post of mine). Outrage should be chanelled the right way and aimed at the right people and coupled with compassion, as Michelle Obama stated in her Class of 2020 speech. That is the only way to pursue positive, meaningful change without costing innocent lives and creating more devision.
However, if you don’t open yourself up to hear the systemic struggles of others and don’t speak up for yourselves and others then the masses and government remain unware and complacent and the government doesn’t have the evidence and the push it needs to change old systems. This is true with BLM, but also with other struggling marginalized groups we don’t hear about in 2020 such as people with disabilities, or in Canada, with aboriginal communities. We need to give voice to the voiceless and use our voice in a good, constructive way coming from a place of seeking a deeper understanding and wanting to expand our empathy.