Discussions of privilege are always interesting to me because they tend to generate a greater defensiveness-to-rationality ratio than almost any other sensitive subject. The most reasoned, non-accusatory approach can result in so much pushback and protestations that I didn’t ask to be this way, so why should I be ashamed of it and be punished for it? (No one’s asking you to be ashamed. Just maybe don’t expect lavish praise just for getting involved. So sue me for trying to help! Well, okay, think about it like the easiest setting in a video game. But not everything is easy for me!)
Robot Hugs’s webcomic explanation of privilege should, by all rights, explain the concept without generating defensiveness, but probably won’t, because People. (The comic itself is one big image, so I’ve checked with Robot Hugs to see if it’s okay to post the full text for anyone using a screen reader, and will do so as soon as I get the okay.)
Privilege refers to the uneven distribution of power within a society. Privilege exists when that aspect of your life is seamlessly accepted into the world without scrutiny or suspicion.
Personal privilege is the possession of these unearned attributes that dictate the ear and influence one will have within society.
Privilege is a fact, not an insult! You can’t help it if you have it, and you don’t have to feel guilty about it.
While she identifies as “mentally ill, queer, and currently occupy[ing] a non-normative internal gender identity,” she also notes that she carries privileges both apparent (white, able-bodied) and assumed (passing as cisgender). And she lists the steps she takes to manage her privilege responsibly: shutting the fuck up, listening, educating herself, using her privilege for good, and learning from her fuckups.
And when someone throws out the p-word?
Some people may use the term to bully or silence, but I would gently suggest that this happens less than people would like.
When I feel attacked, I try to reflect on whether there’s some truth behind it (even if the person could have been nicer about it). Sometimes the call-out is disingenuous, but it never hurts to be a little self-critical!
(Note: Sometimes it can hurt to be self-critical, because reassessing one’s place in the world can be ouchy. But there have been no reports to date of anyone dying during the privilege-checking process.)