Check Your “Privilege”

(I had meant to publish this post yesterday, but for some reason, WordPress’s queue feature has been acting odd and it didn’t work, so here’s my first Saturday post in a long time!)

I’m not sure I understand the concept of “privilege.” It seems like there are people who want you to be ashamed of your “privilege.” If you have more than others or if you were fortunate enought to have been born into a middle- or upper-class family in a wealthy, first-world country, you had better keep your mouth shut because nobody wants to hear about the perfect hand of cards you were dealt. I know we shouldn’t go bragging about what we have and throwing it in others’ faces, but… is that what people mean when they tell you to “check your privilege”? Is it a reminder to be humble? 

In my mind, everyone is given gifts and talents when they’re born. Some of these gifts and talents are material wealth and power, others are intelligence or patience or artistic capabilities. Everyone is also given challenges and weaknesses, and in my view, we are all supposed to help each other with our weaknesses by sharing our gifts and talents. Naturally, life isn’t fair, so all of these things, both the hardships and the riches (material and otherwise), are not evenly distributed. 

However, I don’t think anyone is 100% privileged, and I don’t think that anyone is 100% disadvantaged. But perhaps that mentality comes from being a “privileged” American and living in the “land of opportunity,” where everyone can achieve the “American dream” (although the cynical would have you believe the American dream is, for all intents and purposes, dead). Believe me, I am incredibly grateful that I have been dealt a good hand thus far, and that I have the privileges that I have. I do not intend to be arrogant about them, and I apologize if I come off that way.  

Anyway, happy 4th!

3 thoughts on “Check Your “Privilege”

  1. This made me think of my aunt, who was an elementary school teacher. One day in class she was talking about the importance of eating a nutritious breakfast every day. One of the kids, from a poor family, said, “Mrs. G., you don’t have any idea how people really live, do you?”

    He said it in a kindly way, not sarcastic, and my aunt, to her credit, admitted that he was right (and how many elementary school teachers would have been that honest?). She was far from rich, but she and her husband had steady jobs, and they lived a comfortable, middle-class life. For the poor kids in town, on many days the only nutritious meal they got was the hot lunch they received at school.

    The big problem with saying “check your privilege” is that it cuts off the conversation. It says that those with any kind of privilege don’t have anything to contribute, either in knowledge or in help. And, if you look at things that way, almost everybody has some kind of privilege, so you can find a way to rule them out of order.

    It makes me think of Dr. Richard Rockefeller, who died last month. He was a child of real privilege (his father was the head of Chase Manhattan Bank, and his great-grandfather was, by some estimates, the richest man in the history of the United States), and he became a doctor, a teacher of medicine, a major supporter of Doctors Without Borders, and before his death he was working on improving treatments for PTSD.

    Do you start by trying to shut people up, or do you start by trying to appeal to their humanity?

    • I think part of the issue is that nobody wants to get into a real debate anymore because it’s so much easier to make a sarcastic comment or shut someone down. And it is so easy to forget that the things you take for granted are the privileges that others have never had.

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