Apr 25, 2016
For a long time, I struggled with whether or not to write this article. I am a white, straight, able-bodied, middle-class male in The United States of America. Maybe it’s not my place to write about privilege.
But then again, maybe it is.
I have never been a victim of privilege, but I have benefitted from it for my entire life. I have done nothing to earn the advantages I live with every day.
Maybe the world needs extremely privileged people like myself to talk about our privilege so that others will finally recognize their own.
I have never had to worry about being pulled over in my car because a police officer thinks I look “suspicious.” When I go to college next year, I won’t have to fear for my safety when I walk home late at night. When I go to get a marriage license, I won’t have to worry about being turned away because of my sexuality.
The Hopkins School District is an incredibly diverse community, with students of color making up 41 percent of the district’s population. However, I’ve noticed that many people I encounter here don’t realize the privilege they have and how big of a role it plays in our complex and nuanced society. Hopefully, this article pushes some of my peers to recognize their privilege.
I began my life with an advantage over many simply by virtue of being white.
White privilege manifests itself in the criminal justice system. African Americans are more likely to be imprisoned because of non-violent drug offenses than white Americans. Despite the fact that roughly five times as many white people use drugs as blacks, African Americans are sent to prison about ten times as often as whites, according to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
As a male, I have been afforded many other advantages.
From 1995 to 2010, 91 percent of all rape and sexual assault victims were women, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. And according to the Department of Labor, women working full-time make only about 79 cents for every dollar a man earns.
On top of that, I am also a heterosexual.
In 28 of the 50 states today, you can legally be fired for being gay or transgender. These states don’t have laws that prohibit workplace discrimination. Of the five candidates still running for President of the United States, only two support marriage equality.
These facts support the idea that privilege exists in America. However, privilege isn’t always as concrete as these statistics.
A microaggression is a subtle but offensive comment or action directed at a minority group that is often unintentional or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype.
“You don’t act black.”
Not only do these kinds of comments negatively affect people’s lives, but also they are detrimental to our progress toward equality.
“What are you? Like, where are you from?”
As long as stereotypes are reinforced by microaggressions, it will be impossible to break free of them.
“That’s so gay.”
Whether these remarks are intentionally hurtful or not, being aware of their effects will benefit our progressive generation.
While I have simplified the idea of privilege by separating each kind of privilege into its own category, it is not as simple as that. Intersectionality is a concept used to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions are connected.
Malcolm X said that the most neglected person in America is the black woman. A prominent example of intersectionality, the black woman is disadvantaged by virtue of being black and a woman. She must contend with two disadvantages she was born with.
Peggy McIntosh, an American feminist and activist, wrote, “To redesign social systems, we need first to acknowledge their colossal unseen dimensions.”
In writing this, I hope I have helped some people to acknowledge the colossal unseen dimensions of privilege in our social system and encouraged them to learn more.
We are only 62 years removed from segregation in the United States, and women were granted the right to vote less than 100 years ago. Same-sex marriage was legalized last year. Privilege exists because of a history of structural racism, disenfranchisement, and discrimination both in our country and worldwide.
Progress has been made, but we have a long way to go. In order to do something about this issue, it is important for us to be conscious of privilege. As soon as we recognize privilege as a problem, we can start to do something about it.