What is a privilege and why do I need to check it?

Martin-Pierre Frenette November 19, 2016
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A privilege is an advantage you have over other people simply because of who you are. Often, it doesn’t feel like it to you, simply because you have lived all of your life with it.

When you are told to check your privilege(s), it is usually because someone from a minority is in short accusing you of being insensitive to their plight.

It may sound insensitive toward you, but reality is that you probably ventured in a conversation you shouldn’t have gotten into or said something insensitive.

There are many types of privileges, personally, here are some of the privileges that were awarded to me, simply for being born from my parents instead of from others:

  • Being white
  • Being male
  • Being heterosexual
  • Being cisgendered¬†(Identifying as the same gender I was born with)
  • Being born in the first world, with access to clean water, a roof, access to school, libraries, police protection, etc…
  • Being born in the middle-class
  • Being born in a family that speaks the majority tongue of the area they live in
  • Being born in a place where education is affordable, allowing me to pay for my own college education with little debt
  • Being born from parents with college education
  • Being born in a long settled family and not from immigrants
  • Being born without any physical defects or handicaps
  • Being born without any permanent social¬†issues such as autism
  • Never having been falsely arrested (or arrested at all)

And I am sure that I am missing several I am not even thinking about due to the fact that this is the life I grew up with. For example, being able to eat 3 meals per day for all of my childhood or receiving all of my vaccines are certainly advantages but are they simply the consequence of my previously mentioned ones, or independent ones?

Now, most of my life, I couldn’t see my privileges. It’s not like someone told me “Yes, you got a better grade because you are white” or “We picked your company instead of another one because you are a man”.

Growing up, it certainly didn’t feel like I was privileged when I was the victim of some homophobia in high school (despite being straight) or when I was bullied for being a Nerd. I didn’t feel privileged when my parents divorced and my single mother had troubles feeding me properly as a teenager.

It’s only when I started seeing other people who didn’t have some of my privileges that I realized that overall, I had it a lot better on average.

Yes, I was intimidated for my essential tremors in 4th grade, but that was a single year of my elementary school and only a few students took part of the intimidation. It wasn’t a school-wide bullying like many LGBT teens suffer, often leaving much deeper scars that can lead to suicide.

Yes, I was bullied in high school but I could find friends to help me, I could get the school to help me, I could get help. I managed to find solutions and get the bullying to stop. Meanwhile many African-Americans in mostly white schools were victim of systemic discrimination from the schools themselves until they graduate, transfer or drop-out.

Yes, I was called gay slur because I didn’t care for Hockey and cars, but I wasn’t actually gay so the cuts were superficial.

Until you understand fully how you were privileged, you can’t being to understand how minorities have suffered because you assume that they had the same access to your privileges that you did, that you took for granted.

Category: Privilege
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Martin-Pierre Frenette

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