Adversity, destruction and conflict exist throughout every part of the world. The horrors of war plague the lives of millions overseas, natural disasters tear families and homes of Americans apart, and homelessness and hunger oppress thousands within our own communities.
It’s a privilege to live without encountering war, injustice, food insecurity, oppression, poverty or violence. Everyone has unique experiences and a person can be more fortunate in some ways, and lack advantage in others.
Recognizing privilege is important for better understanding ourselves and others. It requires self-awareness, honesty and nuance. Yet, many people misunderstand what it means to acknowledge privilege.
Acknowledging privilege can be realizing that your gender or race has never prevented you from getting a job. It can be understanding that your family’s legacy of graduates from an Ivy League school could influence your acceptance into that same school.
Knowing the differences between your experiences and another person’s can reveal not only what privilege and oppression look like, but how they affect everyone.
This understanding may motivate some to use privilege for uplifting those who are oppressed. If you’re someone who benefits from a high paying job that has flexible hours and lots of free time, you may want to spend that free time volunteering.
However, recognizing privilege doesn’t have to translate to taking action either. It is just another cornerstone of self-awareness, which is essential for growing as a person and emotionally maturing.
Unfortunately, privilege has become a buzzword in the past few years as many try to spread awareness for the importance of acknowledging it.
Social media posts about checking privilege are often met with backlash from those who feel like their personal problems or achievements are being overlooked. Being able to recognize that your family’s generational wealth has positively impacted your career doesn’t mean you didn’t work hard in life or that you haven’t suffered from other trauma.
Conversely, some will interpret the need to check privilege as an obligation to feel guilty living without oppression. With constant access to news and social media, it is easy to ruminate on the plethora of negativity in the world, causing feelings of stress, despair and helplessness to build up.
It is easy to feel attacked when you think someone is disregarding your experiences, and it’s hard to remember that you can’t control what kind of situations you’re born into, but neither of these reactions are productive nor helpful.
Having conversations about privilege should involve vulnerability and accountability, but above all else, they must be nuanced.
Looking at life through a black and white lens prevents us from taking care of ourselves and each other. With all that holds people down and keeps them down, acknowledging privilege is just another step in a long journey toward progress — both personal and societal.
Privilege and oppression keep people divided in many ways, but you can always make the choice to break down the barriers of ignorance by starting a simple conversation with yourself.