Definition of privilege: a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.
I’ve come to find that most people (usually within the majority, but not always) are very uncomfortable when privilege becomes a topic of discussion. However, the problem with privilege is that people don’t want to talk about it or acknowledge that it exists. The thing that most people don’t realize is that everyone has some sort of privilege. EVERYONE, because there is always someone who has had it harder than you.
For example, I am an African-American woman who comes from a lower-middle class background. To most people, that means that I deserve to be pitied or felt bad for. Despite the fact that I may be institutionally disadvantaged in ways that I have no control over, I still have privilege. How? Well for one thing I attended a prestigious Jesuit university that costs much more than I could ever afford. Do I have a lot of loans? Yes. Am I in a shitload of debt? Yes. BUT I still had the privilege of attending this university for four years and getting a degree, when there are some people who don’t even have the chance to attend any sort of higher education institution. Whether it be because they cannot afford it or have to go straight to work, I still have a privilege that others don’t.
During a diversity session as a part of RA training, a guy explained that he and his family were able to go on a family vacation the summer before. In his mind, it wasn’t considered a privilege because he worked for and saved that money, rather than just having it to spend. Yes, because of that he was disadvantaged. What he failed to realize, was that the privilege is still there because he was able to spend that extra money on a vacation because it didn’t have to go toward bills, putting food on the table, or even an emergency. Having to work for something does not change the fact that you have privilege.
The following year, at another RA diversity training session, we watched a video of people sitting in a circle and talking about racism and privilege. There was one white male in the room that basically tried to say that neither of these things existed. An African American male, while explaining why these things are a problem, started to get emotional and yell because he was so frustrated. The instructor asked for thoughts. An RA (white male) says that since the man in the video started screaming, he would’ve just stopped listening to what he was saying. The problem with that is: If you discredit what someone is saying or stop listening all together because they are experiencing feelings that you yourself have never and will never EVER feel, then you are a part of the problem. In that moment you are the person that needs to be educated about the inequalities around you and you won’t even take the time to listen to what someone is trying to say.
As a student leader and a minority at a Predominantly White Institution (PWI) is is heart-breaking to know that the majority of campus, the people that freshman and residents are supposed to look up to, are modeling the wrong message. I recently deleted an RA from Facebook after they posted something opposing #BlackLivesMatter. Not only because of the message that they were sending but also because I knew for a fact that that particular RA had black residents. Also, their residents were not comfortable talking to him about their issues. By no means am I saying that all student leaders have to think exactly alike, but even if you don’t agree with something that your residents believe in, the fact that you chose to be an RA means that you need to be willing to provide for and be a resource to your students regardless of how their background differs from yours.
This is a less severe example but I, quite frankly, do not see the point of social sororities. I would never join one because I don’t feel like I would get anything out of it. However, half of my residents were in sororities. I may not have liked the idea of them, but I’m also not in one so I don’t get to judge the people that are if I don’t experience what they experience. So I asked them questions, how it was going, how it worked, what the process was, and why they enjoyed it. It didn’t change my mind, but I’m their RA. It was my job to care about them and what they do. I learned a lot from my girls about Greek Life and as an RA I used my position as a student leader to get more information on something that I don’t understand instead of condemning it. It also brought me closer to my residents, which is really a part of the job.
A group of friends and I were talking once about the things that we learn in school and one of them said something that is so so so important that I immediately wrote it down,“White privilege is your history being taught as a requirement, while mine is only offered as an elective.” This statement just says so much. In college the history of minorities is an elective (sometimes a minor but not even a major) and in high school there might be one chapter in a textbook or a month of the same shit every year. In high school we spent most of our time talking about European history. The ONLY time we talked about African American history was during Black History Month and even then it was usually just slavery and then a little on the Civil Rights Movement. It was the same every year and we never really learned anything new, and we never learned about inventors or mathematicians. Just the same people. On top of that I learned noting about Latin, Asian, Caribbean, or Middle Eastern cultures with the exception of the “Religions of the World” chapter in my AP World History class as a sophomore in high school. Even world history is still very limited to European cultures only. But look at the people who write those textbooks: Typically they are white, heterosexual, cisgender males. So I guess we really shouldn’t expect anything more right? Like the fact that children in elementary school are still being taught that Christopher Columbus discovered America and was super peaceful and happy-go-lucky. (If you think that this is true, you may want to do some research).
When people bring up privilege, those that have it automatically assume that they are being attacked. In actually, you’re only being asked to be aware of it. No one is shaming you, no one is angry with you. But the fact of the matter is that it exists and you should accept that. Simply being aware of what privilege is and how much of it you have could make a huge difference in your interactions with people and how you view the world.