Saturday, 16 March 2013

Privilege. Mine.

One of the most fascinating, and resonating things I learned about during the course of gaining my Sociology degree, was about the concept of privilege.

Privilege is (dictionary definition):
A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to one person or group of people.

 When applied to structures in society, it means that some groups are given advantages on the basis of various arbitrary (i.e. unrelated to merit) conditions. The most common types of privilege that are discussed are white privilege and male privilege. But privilege exists in many different forms. And one of the key things about privilege is that people who have it fail to see what unearned advantages they have in society, believing that they have gotten where they are purely by hard work. The barriers to others are invisible, and the victims are blamed instead of the structures being challenged.

I will rant and rave and complain and moan about privilege from time to time, but I think that it's important that I recognise the ways in which I am privileged, as well as the ways in which I am disadvantaged.

I do not see these things as inherently good. When I say that I am privileged to be white, I don't mean that I think it is better to be white than to be black (or any other colour or ethnicity). Far from it - I am a passionate believer in equality. All that I am saying is that I realise that being white gives me certain advantages, since the society I live in is racist in various overt and covert ways.

I am privileged because I am white. My skin colour doesn't automatically make people think I am a thief when I walk into a shop, an illegal immigrant when I sit on a bus, a prostitute when I get into a car (all things I have heard of happening anecdotally). I can open a newspaper or a magazine and be confident that I will see people of my ethnicity depicted in positive as well as negative ways. These are just a few of the ways in which being white gives me a position of privilege in modern Irish society. I am also privileged not to be a Traveller, in which case I would be thought of as stupid and dirty and a drain on society.

I am privileged because I am straight. If I fall in love I can marry the person I love, as it would be (and in fact was) a heterosexual marriage: I can celebrate my love for a partner without being called dirty or sinful or disgusting or a multitude of worse words. I can walk down the street holding hands with or kissing a partner without it making me fearful for my safety. I can turn on the television or read a book and see people in relationships like mine depicted as normal. I don't get regularly confronted with polls on other people's opinions, who are completely unaffected by my decisions and life choices, as to whether I should have equal rights.

I am privileged because I am cisgendered. The way I feel about my body is depicted in society and media as the norm. I don't have to go seeking obscure blogs and websites in order to find others who feel the way I do about the body I was born with. I don't have to deal with people telling me I am a freak or a weirdo, or telling me how I should feel about my body and what I should or should not be allowed to do with it. I don't have the very essence of who I am criticised or lampooned on a regular basis.

I am privileged because I am able-bodied. I can enter shops without a second thought, I can watch a film without having any difficulty, I don't have people look down on me and think I am in some way less than human or less than them because my body or brain is different.

I am privileged because I live in a country that has a safety net. I am not currently working, I have a 2 year old and a baby on the way and the maintenance my ex gives me isn't enough to cover basic living expenses - nowhere near in fact. However, I get an allowance from the state which does cover those basic expenses like food, heat and clothing. If I manage my money well, I may even be able to put some aside from time to time. I did so in the past and this meant that when I had to suddenly and abruptly leave my husband, I was able to do so. I could pay a deposit to rent a new house within days of leaving.

Following on from the previous point, I am privileged to live in a country that allows me as a woman certain rights, such as holding a separate bank account from that of my husband - it allowed me to squirrel some money away, though I didn't expect to need to use it to leave him I was very, very glad to have it when that was the way things turned.I am privileged to live in a Western World country, where finding a new place to live even for a woman in desperate circumstances is as simple as loading a smartphone app and making a few phone calls. Where I am not, as a newly single mother, looked upon with suspicion and revulsion (in general).

I am privileged to live in a country that has freedom of speech. I can complain about the ways in which privilege affects me negatively (oh, and I will!) without fear of being locked up. I am free to own a computer and access the internet and use it to seek and share information. I am privileged to be able and allowed to read and write; ditto for driving.

I am privileged to live in a democracy. I have the right to vote, or the right to abstain from voting. I will not be jailed or killed for going against the majority.

That's all I can think of for now! Of course there are probably other ways in which I am privileged - feel free to use the comments to share them with me if you think of any, or to talk about ways in which you too are privileged. We are all quick to see how disadvantaged we are, but it is good for each of us to check our own privileged from time to time as well, especially if we like to argue that others should do so.

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