We’re making it harder by calling it “privilege.” Surely, the term “privilege” is accurate by definition. But think about it in practice. What comes to mind when you think of the word “privilege”? For me, it is a rich white kid getting access to things that others can’t. While, this image works for the term, there are a number of flaws in it. For example, poor people enjoy white privilege as well. But I think the biggest problem with it is that this term turns off white people. Think about it – it’s not a natural human inclination to admit one’s own advantage.
Before you write me off please read the next sentence. I know white privilege exists and I’m committed to understanding it better. I’m committed to helping others understand it and finding the right ways to address it. That’s why I have such a problem with the term.
Understanding privilege and systemic racism and disadvantage is uncomfortable and difficult. So it requires high-level self awareness and intelligence working in concert.
Self-awareness is necessary to allow for the necessary empathy for another person’s vastly different life experience. A certain level of intellectual aptitude is necessary to comprehend the myriad systemic and personal impacts related to privilege and the the historical events that are impacting present day behaviors.
These requirements alone mean that understanding and spreading the concepts of privilege is an uphill battle – and we’re making it even harder on ourselves.
White people are the ones who need to understand white privilege most. They are the ones who are in the best position to address the negative impacts of white privilege and eliminate it where possible. The same is true for male privilege, and straight privilege, and female privilege, and so on. So, let’s use a term that doesn’t leave the target audience feeling alienated, attacked, and on defense.
Could white “perspective” work? How about white “experience”?
The concept of privilege applies to many people and impacts us all on a daily if note constant basis. In order to spread the concepts and interventions as effectively as possible we need to be intentional in our language. As the english teacher from my well-funded, mostly white, public high school taught me, “Words have meaning. Use them with care.”
Peace be the journey,
Matt Kreiner (a white guy)