Explaining Privilege so White People Understand
Displaying privilege in a way that hopefully everyone can understand
Life is really hard. Like, really hard. It’s confusing. It’s unpredictable. It’s a solo adventure. And sometimes, it’s just flat-out sad.
From one perspective, hell is all around the world. Tragedies occur every day. 27 million people are still enslaved this second. Roughly ten percent of the world’s population lives on less than $1.90 a day. And as we kill ourselves and each other, the very Earth we do these activities in is continuing to crumble.
Extremes like these are by no means the limit to this hell we call life. The systems of oppression we live within, limit the wellbeing and ability of minorities all throughout the United States. The imbalance of enforcement has led to mass incarceration in proportionately towards people of color and only .05 percent of sexual assault charges lead to time being served. Along with stigmas and social norms that ban the ideas and actions of anything not wanting to be heard.
Let’s get even less extreme. Let’s go to me. A white, straight, middle-class, relatively intelligent, blue-eyed male living in the United States. What do I have to complain about? Well, in one sense, a lot.
The biggest relationship of my life ended terribly. I have divorced parents who raised me in polar opposite environments. I was diagnosed with mild Asperger’s syndrome and celiac disease. I constantly go in and out of the ringer called depression. The occasional mild episode of insanity likes to sprinkle itself into my life. And some other shit I’m sure.
People around the world have their lives ruined by things that they have little or no control over. Things that we did not want to happen, yet do anyways. I feel that everyone must have their fair share of personal experiences that makes, or has made, our lives really fucking hard.
So what should we think of this? It would seem that no matter who you are, or where you are, life can sometimes be really hard. The thing is, and this is a tough pill to swallow, as hard as your life is now… it can always be harder.
I’ve had a hard life. I really think I have. It has been pretty gritty at things and my mental issues have rarely helped. But… as hard as it has been for me, it could be sooooo much harder.
Who would I be if the size and distribution of melanocytes in my skin tissue were large enough for society to deem me “black”? Genetically the same of course, so probably pretty similar intelligence and mental circumstances. But how many microaggressions would it take until I felt the effects? How many people zoning out as I raise my hand in class would it take until I stopped? And how much concern would I receive for my subjective mental health issues? Would anyone even bat an eye at my cries for help, or would it more likely be seen as an “emotional outburst”? (Oh wait, that’s just if I was classified female).
** I do not intend to justify or normalize the situations that I wrote above for people of color or women. I am simply referring to the case-proven studies that find microaggressions and subconscious biases as factors that influence how people of color and women are seen and heard. Of which are truly unfair and unjustifiable. **
Who would I be if I was born into poverty? If all I had to my name were the things I carried? They would probably weigh me down. Not the objects in my pockets of course, but instead the burdens lying within my mind. Would the stress of not being guaranteed dinner distract me from my algebra? Would my stained, handy-down clothing stop others from approaching me? And who knows, maybe I wouldn’t have been cheated on… because she would have never dated me in the first place.
Who would I be if I was born in Malawi? Or Somalia? Or Tanzania? Or are all of them just “Africa” in your mind? Haha, that’s assuming you knew they were in Africa. Who would I be when the average GDP per capita is only $596 (it’s $62,794.6 in the U.S). I suppose the stigma would go away, but how does one grow in such an environment? How can someone, assuming still me with their “relative intelligence”, prosper and add something to even themselves. And this is assuming we won the lottery of not having a deadly disease (such as HIV, Malaria, TB, etc.), not being owned (assuming poverty alone isn’t ownership), not being one of the 60 million children without primary education, and not being one of the 3.1 million children who die each year from undernutrition.
The point of this post is not to make you feel bad. And it’s definitely not intended to belittle your own suffering. It is instead to show that privilege, by sheer luck and systems of advantage society seems to pretend are natural, has allowed you, me, and so many others, to live a better life than the one we have now. And it’s still hard as hell at times, but damn, it can be harder.