One of the biggest issues that we face currently is the inability to have honest, real discussions about privilege. Monday’s column, “Privilege is not enough to end all discussions,” illustrates that. Privilege is a part of everyone’s life, affecting every interaction and experience that one has. Sometimes you can see it, sometimes you can’t. What matters is how one responds to being called out on this privilege, how one reacts and behaves. It is not a personal attack, and being defensive and hostile only further diminishes the experiences of members of marginalized groups. It invalidates their opinions and feelings, further perpetuating the marginalization of their identity.
Privilege has an abundance of forms, such as mental health, gender identity, sexual orientation and many others. Contrary to the opinion of this writer, being neurotypical is in fact a privilege, and being monogamous definitely is. Further, one can be privileged in one scenario and oppressed in another. Privilege is complex, with many intersections of identities.
As a person of color, one does not experience life the same as a white individual. This is not a personal attack on white identity, but rather a commentary on how society values different races and ethnicities over others. One only has to turn as far as the local news to see this, through police brutality, racial profiling and other discriminatory events. This article shows a failure to understand the concept of privilege and illustrates the need to educate others on what it is.
As a queer person of color, it is exhausting and frustrating to deal with individuals unwilling to acknowledge their privileges. I am not attempting to shame you or leverage my privileges against you in a competition. It’s not a contest, a game to see who is the most discriminated against. It is an acknowledgment of how my experience differs from yours in a way that you can never truly understand unless you also aren’t afforded those privileges.
In order for any change to take place, one has to start by dealing with the privileges they have and allowing the voices of those without privileges to be heard. Being offended that someone is “discounting” your ideas helps no one. It only allows the issue to continue and enables oppression. This makes the discussion about yourself, which it is not. It’s not about you. It’s about the individuals and community being systematically oppressed by the institutions that enable your privilege. By disavowing the concept of privilege, you subscribe to systems of oppression.
Yes, we all have privileges. And if we truly want to live in an equitable and just world, we need to acknowledge them and allow those that are actively being discriminated against to be empowered and voice their experiences. As Mia McKenzie writes, “If you are a person with a lot of privilege (i.e. a white, straight, able-bodied, class-privileged, cisgender male or any combination of two or more of those) and you call yourself being against oppression, then it should be part of your regular routine to sit the hell down and shut the eff up.” Knowing when it is your turn to talk, and not rise above the voices of those who are truly being affected, is the role of an ally to any community and an advocate for equity and justice.
Marcus Robinson (he/him/his)
President of Rainbow Alliance