Then later when I voiced this to my partner she helped me understand it better. She explained that privilege isn't about that. It's a tool that you can use to help reshape your own thinking so that you can be more sympathetic to other people. Identifying your own privilege helps you walk a mile in their moccasins or imagine others complexly. Having privilege, she said, is like playing a video game on Easy. And when you think about other people you have to think about what level they're playing the game on. Are they on Medium, Hard, Extreme?
It's a really good tool and a really healthy way to look at your own life.
I've been lucky. Seriously. I've been so lucky. I'm dripping with privilege and good fortune. Now, this isn't something I'm trying to brag about, but rather I thought it important to lay out all the unfair ways that I've benefited in this life. Sometimes you have to stop and look at how:
- I was born American at a time when America was a safe, wealthy nation with many resources and a high quality of life index.
- Born to parents who were of European ancestry in a society dominated by such an ethnic group.
- Born male, the sex provided with greater opportunities in my society.
- Born healthy, both without acute illness or birth defects that could limit my learning, mobility or independence.
- Born into a two parent home where book learnin' and creativity were valued.
- Born into a family of healthy people who had access to health and dental insurance
- Lived a comfortable life and never wanted for anything beyond unnecessary consumer goods.
- My romantic and sexual attractions to people were socially acceptable.
- I had the benefit of a free government programs that allowed me to attend school for free and that gave me a full college scholarship.
- I had the means to move to a large, expensive city with diverse people and liberal values.
- I faced no discrimination when applying for housing or a employment.
- I had access to health insurance through my various jobs.
- I had access to Callen-Lorde and supportive medical professionals when I chose to go on hormone replacement therapy.
- I found an awesome partner who accepted me even after transition.
- I had access to a job that doesn't discriminate against transgender people.
This was all stuff that I lucked into. None of these things were accomplishments, none were things I had to earn. All these were given to me freely and without obligation from my parents, family or society. It was all luck and nothing that I earned.
There are so many people, in other countries, heck in my own borough, who didn't have these privileges or this luck. And their lives are different because of that. While I was handed things, they had to work hard for access to education or housing or health care.
And I don't want to get preachy or political, but I think those of us with privilege do have an obligation to be compassionate and more understanding to those without. I think that's at the core of everything; morality, politics, even comedy. Really, I think almost every political debate can be seen through the lens of "Do what degree do the privileged owe the less privileged?"
Immigration, taxation, whether to intervene in a foreign war or genocide, prison reform, suffrage, foreign aid, public school funding. All of it comes down the question of how much privilege should the highly privileged give up to help those with less? Heck, I think even the transgender restroom issue is about those with cis privilege not wanting to give up their idea of comfort for the betterment of transgender people with less privilege.
There's not always an easy answer to that question of how much the privileged should give up for those less privileged. Karl Marx said they should give it all up. Ayn Rand would answer none of it. The rest of us are somewhere in the middle, though probably leaning to one side or the other. Issues can be complex and there isn't always an easy answer.
But the important thing is that privilege is not a scary word and if someone calls you out for your privilege, don't take offense. Take that as an opportunity to examine what you've been given in life and to be thankful for it. Maybe before you judge another person, take a moment to make your own list like the one above and see where that takes you.
Sorry, I don't mean to get political or preachy. I just hope this is something to think about.