It’s a word that’s heavily loaded in many ways. The idea of privilege is that it’s something you’ve never had to work for, but you get treated better by others because of it. It’s often connected with social status, ‘the upper echelons’ of power, money, wealth, and more often than not, those with privilege are seen to look down on those in a less privileged position. Privilege is portrayed in media and other places as something that is not worked for, you’re just lucky to have it. All in all, privilege is a much maligned word, with some quite dark connotations of selfishness, lack of care for other people, and an attitude of disdain for anyone who doesn’t have the status required to enter into any sort of conversation or relationship with said privileged individual.
On asking around, there are many protests of ‘I’m not privileged because of x, y and z – I work hard every day for what I have, I’m middle class/working class, privilege is only for the upper class toffs’. But, dare I pose a different thought to this? Privilege doesn’t just relate to status and social class. It also relates to the colour of our skin. Our gender choices. Our sexual preferences. Our abilities/disabilities. Our country of birth. Our language. Our region. Our accents.
The meaning and interpretation of privilege is often twisted and turned into something ugly in order to make us ignore the glaring fact, that every single one of us is privileged in some way. It’s easy to say there is some sort of hierarchy of privilege, and I’m sure there are many articles to confirm such things. Often, this can be construed as expecting someone to be ashamed for simply being who they are, being born into a privileged life. I have no intention in doing this. What I aim to do is to hopefully set the spark of realisation that we *are* privileged, to recognise this, to embrace this, and then to actually do something with this realisation.
Being privileged doesn’t mean you’ve had an easy life, that you haven’t had to fight for everything you have. It simply means that your fight has been easier in relation to someone who has a lesser privilege. It doesn’t mean your fight is any less valid. Every fight we have to attain something is a struggle and takes its toll – and that isn’t removed from our experience. But might I suggest, if we have felt the struggle to attain our current positions in life, imagine what that would be like for someone with less privilege in our societies? If they have fought the same battles and still not achieved what we have, imagine what that would feel like. Imagine the frustrations and despair of that. With very very good reason.
I did think of providing examples to consider at this point, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, we can all identify a situation where we have all had a better chance than someone else, purely because of who we are. Whether it’s our ethnicity, our gender, our social status, where we live, our sexuality, our physical ability to walk up some stairs, there is no more virtuous or malevolent form of privilege, it’s simply a state of being that we have or have not.
I must re-emphasise that having privilege, in whatever form that is, isn’t a shameful thing. It’s what we choose to do with this privilege that defines whether our actions are shameful or not. If everyone used their privilege in even a small way, to help someone who is struggling, then perhaps the idea of privilege wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Use our talents and the benefits we are given, to help those who don’t have the same benefits, and perhaps, in the end, the idea of privilege will be null and void. Because when everyone reaches out to those who need it, give a little of the things that we have that others don’t, then eventually, perhaps privilege will no longer exist.