Do you check your privilege before you speak? Huh? What does that mean, you might ask?
There’s a question on the airwaves these days, i.e. “How can you speak to an issue if personal privilege might color your opinion?” This article in the Guardian offers more detail.
Clearly, given the title of this blog, I believe that privilege exists. I also believe it should be discussed openly. So discussed by whom? And how?
Let’s first define our terms. Privilege means you get stuff you don’t have to work for. The concept of privilege in society implies that those without suffer injustice. Everyone on board with that? Despite the inelegant grammar?
If you rely on language alone, categories of privilege get pretty silly pretty fast. We move from white privilege, male privilege, straight privilege, to thin privilege, and then on to hirsute privilege, good work ethic privilege, and so on. But we all know that easy riffing often ignores truths.
Add a little thought.
I always start with my own reactions, if only to clear thought space. For example. I have a strong bias toward simply getting on with things. I might be tempted to label discussing Privilege (other than for entertainment) complaining. I might blurt out, “Could we all please Just Buck Up?” However, what about feminism? I’ve run into my fair share of harassment. To say nothing of myriad male attempts to seize power via gender attacks. It was worse in the 80s.
So I can’t deny the emotional reality of privilege as experienced from the other side.
Now what? Does logic support emotion? And how far? Let’s analyze the construct, the model itself of privilege and power. Back to the definition. Privilege, briefly stated, is stuff you get without having to work for it. But oh so many layers.
There’s genetic privilege, if you will. Born white, born male, born intelligent, born tall, born handsome. Yet the men I know who check all these boxes are markedly non-dominating. Nor can all genetic talents be defined as privilege. Resilience is genetic, and a priceless advantage, but we attribute the virtues of those born resilient to, well, virtue.
Then there’s non-genetic privilege. Wealth, a functional family, fresh air, good food, education. As we know, these don’t follow automatically from genetic privilege. Rich kids grow up on junk food, tall people have cruel parents, little boys are badly schooled. To further complicate our analysis, someone had to work for that non-genetic privilege; at the very least parents had to say no to Cheetos.
So logic will take us only so far toward absolute rules for who has privilege, who doesn’t, and therefore who is allowed to speak.
Let’s approach this from another angle. Let’s assume that such rules are possible, that silencing those with privilege, feasible. In that case only voices of the dominated will be allowed. Taken further, (and assuming that lack of privilege confers as much virtue and self-awareness as privilege – which is to say Not Too Much) will we cast all experience in light of victimhood?
A poor outcome, in my opinion.
I’m going to come out in favor of freedom to speak, as long as we remember who might be listening, and what life they may have led. Checking not so much my own privilege as the hearts and minds of others as I go. Because I believe people are at heart good, I hope we the privileged get to talk as long as we try not to be jerks. As long as we ridicule no one.
I hope we don’t have to apologize, at least not more than once. Or twice. Or at the very most 10 times. I used to apologize all the time. Constant self-questioning turns into anxiety, and there’s enough of that in the world.
I also hope the idea of Just Buck Up keeps its value.
Power is one source of sorrow in the world, but there are others.
Let’s return to the realm of the ridiculous. Laughter is one of the great human identifiers, and we can get to funny pretty quickly. Take a quiz, referred to me by Ellemarcheseule. Or go reread Stuff White People Like. Only thing is, remember to laugh loudly at ourselves and gently at others.
Have a wonderful weekend.