Privilege

(Read time: 5 minutes)

As a time, the year 2020 will be studied for the foreseeable future. As we reach the halfway mark we are all witnessing the uprising of a global, multi-ethnic, anti-racism movement sparked by the merciless killing of George Floyd (October 14, 1973 – May 25, 2020) and inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests. Over the last few weeks there have been countless posts on social media, discussions on television and emails from employers supporting the movement and condemning the passing of George Floyd.

Across the world there has been a rise in conversations surrounding race equality, gender equality and sexual equality. We all have our own identity which shapes how we view ourselves and others – our individual circumstances, upbringings and norms influence not only our experiences, but how we view the world. Our subconscious and conscious are so inter-linked that if we really sit down and think about our thoughts, I would question with what certainty we could separate our own thoughts from those which have been significantly influenced by factors we aren’t even aware of. Differences in identity are the hallmark of humanity; however, truly understanding the desire for everyone to be equal whilst actually facing the reality that we aren’t creates a profound sense of cognitive dissonance that has permeated the modern world.

It has been encouraging to see individuals from all backgrounds and beliefs come forward to support the movement and support general equality more broadly. At the same time, it has also offered an opportunity to build awareness by initiating a dialogue on history, racism and privilege. I am not in a position to comment on the history of racism because, although the curriculum of my education was beyond my control, until recently I had regrettably not fulfilled my responsibility for educating myself on such deep-rooted matters. Understanding privilege, coming to terms with my own privilege and recognising its impact has been a challenging experience.

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The concept of privilege has been around for some time. It is the idea that an individual has a benefit which is typically unacknowledged and could lead to an unearned advantage. This is not to sound callous and nor is it to imply having privilege exempts an individual from life’s hardships; rather, it simply implies that due to the nature of their identity they have a benefit which is not a result of their own efforts. Although privilege has often been associated with the accumulation of financial wealth, it applies far more broadly and, as explained by Global Citizen, “examples of types of identity that can afford an individual privilege include: race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, country of origin, language, and/or ability”.

The idea of privilege gained prominence when Peggy McIntosh wrote a paper which stated:

“I realised that I had been taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage, but also had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.”

The problematic intricacy around privilege is when it distorts our judgements and when we are blinded by the structural difficulties others face because they do not possess such privilege, thus perpetuating inequality.

While recognising our own privilege can naturally lead to a sense of guilt, the passing of George Floyd has encouraged dialogue surrounding privilege, more specifically race privilege. By engaging in discussions around privilege and taking steps towards processing our own privilege, I feel we will all be better equipped to understand structural inequality and consequently further contribute to an equal society.


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