With camaraderie comes great responsibility. One such responsibility—and necessary accompaniment— is the notion of recognizing one’s own privilege.
It’s awkward when someone tells you, “You’re privileged.” Your defenses go up, along with a thousand excuses rushing to the front of your mind detailing ways you are oppressed, ways you have struggled, and ways you are not at fault for it.
Privilege can often be a tough concept to grasp. It’s not a thought that constantly pops into the mind. I’m positive no white person, for example, wakes up saying, “Hey! I’m white, and I have privilege and I don’t have to worry about being systematically oppressed or thought of as inherently malicious or angry.” I can speak on my own behalf—the first thought in my mind is locating the coffee, not reminding myself to be careful not to come off as seeming “angry.”
However, privilege is by no means a negative status. Everyone has privilege, just as everyone experiences oppression. Privilege and oppression are multidimensional and are not mutually exclusive. In other words, privilege in one social construct does not exclude anyone from being oppressed in another.
For example, a heterosexual, obese, male person of color is privileged because he’s male and non-LGBTQ+, but experiences oppression within the realms of race and weight. Likewise, a white, thin female that identifies as lesbian experiences both white and thin privilege, but is oppressed because she is female and LGBTQ+.
With this idea in mind, the conversation progresses, as privilege can be recognized and acknowledged. The duty of being an ally, however, is the next obstacle.
Being an ally involves the recognition of privilege followed by the recognition of the responsibility to such privilege. If you were, say, in a group planning a campus-wide event and noticed that some of the content could be construed as offensive towards oppressed individuals, you would try to brainstorm an alternative idea such that the oppressed would feel comfortable attending the event.
It is not the internalization of an oppressed group’s experience—this can cause the silenced voices to be further marginalized and overshadowed by privilege—but rather the use of one’s position of privilege to direct the forum towards a more respectable place.
It is also listening to the experiences of such groups. The more testimonials and stories heard, the more context a P.O.P. (person of privilege) can garner in order to stand more strongly in solidarity with O.P.’s (oppressed persons). Furthermore, P.O.P.’s need to educate themselves on such issues so that they can better engage with O.P.’s, for it is not an O.P.’s responsibility to educate everyone on the history of the systematic, daily forms of oppression they undergo.
Of course, a frustrating aspect can be that some allies feel as though their efforts in being an ally aren’t fruitful, and thus, it’s important to remember that additionally, allies need to be allies to each other.
Fostering more support among each other strengthens the bridge of camaraderie that is necessary to keep the momentum of working in solidarity going. Thus, if we can learn to recognize where we are privileged and where we are oppressed, educate ourselves on such issues, and strive to foster a positive movement towards equal treatment of all individuals, we can move forward in the movement against oppression.