In the Minority: Some thoughts on privilege

This post may be all over the place and more of an organized rant, but I realize this is a conversation that has been going on for a while now about what privilege and racism mean. Especially in light of the Black Lives Matter movement and the legalization of same-sex marriage, there seems to be a growing number of people upset about a thing called privilege. And these people seem to be upset that minority groups–whether they are racial minorities or sexual minorities–are getting more attention or as it has been put to me recently, are being “catered to.”

I cannot speak fully to all the issues involved in this, but as a sexual minority, I can understand several issues from experience as someone who is gay and a woman, so I’m going to try to explain what privilege is as best I can understand it. And from that standpoint, I can say this:

We are not asking for “special treatment,” or to be “catered to.” People of color are not asking for this, but for fair and equal treatment as human beings. Because if you’re not a person of color, you do not understand this. This is privilege. I am not a person of color and have not experienced racism. This is privilege. I realize that racism and homophobia are NOT the same thing, and I am not wanting to make them comparable issues. Yet, there seem to be similarities when it comes to treatment of racial or sexual minorities–especially people of color who are LGBT.

If talking about #BlackLivesMatter somehow takes the attention away from the majority for a little bit, somehow that is offensive. Heaven forbid others should be treated like some have been treated their whole life. If you haven’t even had to think about whether it would be difficult for you to get a job because of your ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity, this is privilege. If you’re getting upset reading this because it makes you uncomfortable, that just might be privilege too. This is not an argument; this is a discussion that needs to be had.

Just because someone says you are privileged, doesn’t mean they are saying you didn’t work hard to get where you are, or that you have never and can never experience poverty. But it does mean, the world is at your fingertips.

Privilege is the world being accessible to you without you ever having to think about it.

Privilege is not having to think about whether it will be difficult to obtain housing.

Privilege is not having to think about whether it would be difficult or even unsafe to use the bathroom for the gender you identify with.

If you didn’t have to think about whether walking to your car at night by yourself would be potentially dangerous, this is privilege.

Privilege is not being aware of what privilege was until the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Privilege is NOT racism.

It is not men-hating.

It’s not having to deal with racism because of the color of your skin.

It’s not having to deal with sexism at work.

Privilege is feeling guilty or hating me for saying what I’m saying right now.

But, “checking your privilege,” should go beyond guilt or being offended. It should mean being aware of how many people don’t have the same privileges or rights you do, and helping them get there. It means listening to others who are not like you. It means not speaking about us but to us. It means not speaking for us or over us, but letting us speak and be heard. It takes patience and realizing you won’t always get it right, but making sure you do the next time around. And it means not expecting someone to apologize because you feel uncomfortable.

Election years are always stressful and infuriating. This one in particular is especially infuriating because of certain presidential candidates. Apparently, “free speech” and first amendment rights equal being able to say what you want without consequences and without people saying they disagree with you. And, it silences other voices and often minority voices that need to be heard and lives that need to be valued.

If you’re straight and particularly a straight, white, cisgender male, you may not understand why I’m upset. And, you will never fully understand, because you’re not in my shoes. Yet, this is not an excuse for ignorance. This is an opportunity for you to learn, to listen, to empathize at some level. I feel far too many “allies” stop at the sympathy level when it comes to supporting racial or sexual minorities.

You might feel sorry–you might feel sad. But you are often not willing to take your support further. You don’t want to have a meaningful, engaging conversation or walk side by side with people who are not like you. It’s time for that to change.

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