Privilege. Where do I even begin when sharing my thoughts on the concept of privilege? Perhaps with a quick, less-than-academic definition. In short, privilege is merely a special societal right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people. Nothing more; nothing less. It simply means some aspect of your existence or background gives you an advantage that not everyone else has that you might take for granted. While most folks have heard about white privilege, nearly everyone has some type privilege. Having one type of privilege (being white, being straight, etc.) or multiple privileges doesn’t mean you had an easy life or that you didn’t bust your ass to get where you are.
Despite this simple concept, few phrases seem to incite the level of anger as when you ask someone to “check their privilege.” Look, nobody wants to be told they had it easy. We all get that. But here’s the rub, if someone asks you to check your privilege they aren’t attacking you. Seriously. They’re asking you to simply acknowledge the fact that you may not share their characteristics and that they’d appreciate it if you could take a moment to consider how their background means they encountered or continue to encounter different struggles than you’ve had.
For reasons beyond my understanding some people apparently believe acknowledging the difficulties others face somehow invalidates or diminishes their own struggles. Fuck that noise. Grow up. Hell, if anything, they are giving you an opportunity to actually pause and reflect on the things you take for granted. It’s also important to note, and I’ll likely cover it in more depth in the future, that those of us in marginalized groups are not immune to needing a privilege check from time to time. I belong to one of the largest groups of marginalized people on the planet – people with disabilities – but being disabled doesn’t make me less white and last time I checked I’m still a dude. Even with all my pains, my limp, and my cane I’m still a straight, white, cisgender male. I’ve got privilege pouring out the ass. Buckets of privilege.
My experiences as a disabled person are not diminished by taking the time to understand that, as a white person, I’ve taken for granted the fact that I'll likely never be followed around a store by a suspicious employee.
My experiences as a disabled person are not diminished by taking the time to understand that, as a guy, the odds of me getting groped by a creeper on a subway train is waaaaaaaay lower than it is for women.
My experiences as a disabled person are not diminished by taking the time to realize, as a cisgender male, I’m not going to risk having to defend my choice of bathroom if I ever bother to visit North Carolina.