I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I define social privilege and the way it’s currently viewed in the social justice community. And… I don’t think I agree with the take social justice warriors and other “woke” people have on the subject. In this current climate, having any sort of social privilege (whether that be white, straight, or what-have-you) has an overwhelmingly negative connotation. The notion seems as though people with any sort of privilege socially perpetuate harmful social norms simply by virtue of having said privilege. But I don’t think the term should be that loaded.
To me, having privilege just means you’ve been fortunate enough to not experience aspects of the world in the same way as those without it. For example, while white people may experience racism in the form of individual prejudice, it doesn’t impact white people as a societal or cultural whole. For many people of color, it does. And that’s all privilege is, the random fortune some people have over others on a larger, social scale.
And I think it’s important to acknowledge that such privilege is granted to a group as a whole and not necessarily to an individual. The same goes for the lack of privilege. I’ll use myself as an example in this case. I’m a lesbian and, while lesbians as a whole deal with both homophobia and oversexualization, I’ve personally never been discriminated against for being gay. That doesn’t mean other lesbians don’t, just that my lack of privilege in this area of my identity hasn’t been a hindrance. I’ve been lucky— others haven’t. Meanwhile, not every single individual straight person is constantly benefitting in life just because they’re straight. There just aren’t larger societal issues that could potentially negatively affect their lives.
I also find it to be an issue when marginalized people use someone’s privilege as a method of othering. Even if they’ll never fully understand what it means to be without privilege, it doesn’t mean they can’t try or offer a meaningful point-of-view. What’s more, those of us who do fall into marginalized groups should be emphatically against othering anyone. We know what it’s like, in at least some sense. To turn it around and do it to someone else (whether it’s to the same degree or not) is just hypocritical.
Ultimately, I do still believe privilege is a thing, but I don’t think it’s something that should separate us from one another or incite a new kind of derision. Having social privilege isn’t inherently a good or bad thing— it’s just a way to describe the experience. In fact, I think all our different levels of privilege should be is a starting point for discussions and learning what life is like in another person’s shoes. And, if I’m being entirely honest, I don’t think things will change until we all start to view privilege and a lack thereof this way. Otherwise, we’re just keeping the divisions originally placed on us by ignorance and a lack of empathy firmly between us.