What does it mean to be priviledged?
"What does it mean to be privileged? It means not having to think about any of this, ever."
This is from a wonderful post by Jamelle Bouie that you should read right now.
I think about privilege a lot. Because I am a white woman who was raised in an upper-middle class family in the Midwest, I was raised with an obscene amount of privilege. I’ve written previously about my transition from staunch conservative to pinko commie liberal. A lot of that had to do with trying to become aware of my privilege, and acknowledging how little I can ever know about other people’s experiences.
One particularly illustrative moment for me was when I was once out to dinner with my best friend from college, who is ethnically Indian (I won’t name her but she is probably reading this right now so HII!!!! LOVE YOU!!! MISS YOU!!) She is a vegetarian. Before we ordered, we inquired with our server about the meat contents of certain dishes. Our server immediately asked her if she went to the Hare Krishna temple, where they apparently have a vegetarian buffet. We were not amused. This was not the first time I had been witness to unnecessary comments like this. (Once, at a bar, she was cornered by a guy who wanted to tell her about all the Indian music he liked. My friend was 100% raised in America and could give two shits about your taste in Indian music, really.) Once he left we looked at each other, and I think I said something like “That was weird” and she said something to me I’ll never forget, “Now you know how that feels, well, you can’t KNOW how that feels, but you can see it.”
I was pretty floored by that, because she was right. I had no idea how that felt, and I never, ever could. We had joked about it before, but until then I don’t think I had really understood and internalized what it meant that my friend was treated differently or that it really bothered her. That had been hard for me to see. We had so much in common, she was no different from anyone else I knew, yet people said shit to her that they would not say to me simply because of her skin. In that moment, I started to kind of get how things like this really worked.
I wanted to try to understand that more; I wanted to relate to my friend better. I tried to think of times in my life where I had been treated differently because of who I was, and that led me to think about all the crap I dealt with as a woman. And between being sexually harassed regularly at my restaurant job to being told by boyfriends I was “unladylike”, there was a lot of crap there. So I realized I did, to some extent, understand what it’s like to be without privilege. When men did these things to me, whether they realized it or not, it served to remind me that I was not accepted as their equal. I was different, this world belonged to them, I served a certain purpose in it, and when I didn’t serve those purposes I wasn’t valued. So, in that way I can understand the bullshit that people are capable of when they don’t recognize their privilege.
But, I’m still a white lady, so my world is still filtered through that. I think, though, that being aware of that privilege is a good step to take. It means I can work to avoid making assumptions about people, and to treat people with the respect I might not even immediately realize I’m not giving them. I can better understand why certain things are wrong and so, so damaging to people. So I have to keep an eye on myself, and the people I care about, because even though I can never KNOW what that feels like, I can see it.