Something about the idea of “Privilege” has bothered me ever since its rise to prominence (perhaps not the right word) amongst various communities.
To start, I’m referring to the idea of “Privilege” as used to describe the idea that one might have certain inherent advantages conferred to them, by no merit or action on his or her part, by way of long-standing social structures and/or fortunate traits intrinsic to the person. For instance, white privilege describes the advantages one gains in American (and other) societies by virtue of being white-e.g. a societal presumption of good or neutral intention (compared to a presumption of guilt or negative intention for Blacks), ability to go about one’s business largely free from harassment by law enforcement, and the like. There are all sorts of privilege identified these days-white privilege, straight privilege, cis privilege, male privilege, thin privilege, and on and on.
Let me make it clear that I recognize I have a lot of privilege in our society. I’m white, male, identify as the gender that matches my sex, educated, gainfully employed, financially stable, a homeowner, and not considered ugly or unattractive by many. I recognize I will likely leave an encounter with law enforcement relatively none the worse for wear. I recognize I can walk down the street at any hour with only nominal concern for my physical safety. I recognize that if I were to be in an armed encounter with someone of a racial minority, all I really need to do is make sure the bullets go in the front and that I was convincingly “afraid” for my safety when questioned.
Conversely, I’m gay, an Atheist, have a distinctly rural accent, and grew up in a working class family. I feel like I have to work harder to prove myself than do those who came from middle- and professional class families. I was the first of my family to attend college, so I had to figure all that out for myself. I have to deal with the lack of legal recognition of my relationship and all that comes with that lack of recognition.
Onto my discomfort. I feel like this whole idea of privilege is used as a weapon, as a cudgel, against those who disagree with the agenda of the accuser. It seems to me the idea of privilege, while nominally intended to spur societal conversations with the aim of changing things for the better, is mostly used to lessen the experiences, ideas, and convictions of those with opposing views. Someone suggesting that weighing 300 pounds is unhealthy is accused of not understanding because of their thin privilege. Someone who has overcome plenty of challenges and suggests that people need to overcome their own challenges is told (direct quotes here, copy-pasted from their source) that “Remember your privilege. Not everyone has the ability to do what you've done in terms of overcoming triggers, etc,” and “I'd really prefer to not try ro [sic] argue with you about hetero privilege, especially as a straight, married, white man. I mean, we can go there if you want, but... I think the "people thought i was gay so i experienced what actual gay people deal with for their whole lives for a small period of time" card is not such a great card to play.” I’ve known this person since high school, and he’s about as sympathetic to “the cause” as you can get. Yet, the instant he suggests that some people need to take action to help themselves, this is what he gets. And I see it all across the web.
I feel like this whole idea of privilege is not encouraging conversations. It’s stifling them. It’s telling some people that they don’t have the right to speak on certain topics. It’s telling them they have no right to have opinions on certain topics, even if they’re otherwise allies for “the cause.” It’s telling them that their feelings, their experiences, their challenges, their frustrations, and their fears don’t matter. They’re not sufficiently pure, they’re not sufficiently victimized by society, they’re not sufficiently experienced, they’re not welcome and their opinions aren’t welcome and their support isn’t welcome.
And it occurs to me, as well, what good does pointing out all this privilege actually do? Does anyone actually think that broad swaths of society will feel so bad that they’ll willingly give up what they have? Will all those thin people who work out all the time and carefully watch their diet and forego delicious bacon and sweets and chips suddenly stop doing that and let themselves become less attractive to society so that heavy people feel better about themselves? Will white people suddenly start telling cops about all the stuff they’re guilty of doing?
I don’t mean to suggest we should continue treating people poorly. Our law enforcement and legal system should not presume Black people are immediately guilty. A white guy should not be able to just make sure the bullets go in the front and claim fear and then get away with it. Thin people with great bodies should not walk around calling larger people names or mocking them.
But, there’s a gulf of difference between conducting one’s self in a courteous civilized manner and piling on disadvantages to make someone else feel better. There’s a gulf of difference between asking people to conduct themselves in a civilized fashion and suggesting that anyone who disagrees or just doesn’t agree enough is not allowed or entitled to speak or have an opinion. There’s a gulf of difference between making victimhood part of one’s identity and rising to overcome one’s challenges.
So help me out, my friends. Am I way off base here? Is there something I’ve missed? Am I onto something? I’d love to get some other insights into all this.