In the last 72 (or so) hours I’ve had six conversations about privilege. Each time I’ve been annoyed that whichever academic articulated the truth that attributes over which we have little or no control play a significant role in how we are perceived and how much (or little) we have to overcome didn’t choose a more palatable word to describe it.
Here are some of my privileges:
• I’m white, in a country and a dominant culture that prize caucasoid heritage and appearance
• I have been able-bodied for all but a small percentage of my life
• my parents were married and lived together throughout my childhood and adolescence
• my father was employed the entire time I was dependent on him
• I grew up never knowing food scarcity, and never worrying about a roof over my head
• my parents prized education, and read to me from birth
• I am intelligent and literate
• I am cis-gender
• I am middle-class and well-spoken
• I did not grow up at risk of or exposed to crime or illicit drugs
These privileges, which I had no input into and cannot take credit for, do not mean my life has been a cake walk, or that I haven’t worked hard for where I am now. They do mean that I had, and have, things easier that someone else who, all other things being equal, didn’t have those unearned advantages.
Acknowledging my privilege doesn’t mean denying or ignoring aspects of myself or my life that were disadvantageous. I experienced abuse; was raised by an alcoholic and a narcissist; spent much of my teens, all of my twenties, and some of my thirties with an eating disorder that’s now in remission; I am female, fat, and queer in a country and a culture that repudiates these to various degrees.
These and other aspects of who I am and what I’ve experienced don’t cancel out my privilege.
We live in a society that prioritises straight, white, cis, able-bodied, wealthy men. The more closely one fits that ideal, the more credit one is given – to be more readily heard, believed, perceived as honest/intelligent/promotable; the further away one is, the more likely one is to be ignored, mistrusted, arrested, convicted, attacked.
This doesn’t mean every straight, white, cis, able-bodied man has been handed life on a plate, has experienced no hardship, or lives a life of luxury.
It means that being aware of fortune makes us more compassionate. Noticing the distance we have to travel compared to those with less congenital luck makes us more likely to extend a hand to those with further journeys. Seeing systemic injustice makes us work to level out what we can, to increase fairness, equity, the proverbial fair go Australia prides itself on.
Surely there’s nothing so threatening in that?