Earlier this week, someone commented on a link I posted to Facebook a few months ago, kicking off a flurry of new activity. The original post was a blog I wrote in January about White Privilege in the Outdoors, in which I talked about owning my white privilege to create a more welcoming outdoor community. Most of the comments were supportive. A few of them were not. One, particularly, got to the heart of it the debate:
"I'm a white male...and I'm going to say it's b.s. to assume I had any advantage over anyone to get to where I am....the only advantage I had was being born to good parents but that was luck."I shook my head as I read this, and challenged this person to re-read my article, re-read his comment, and try to see how the very thing he was saying in defense of privilege was in fact a confirmation of said privilege.
Let me acknowledge here that I am in no way an expert on 'privilege' - I hardly know what I'm talking about. Anything I say is from my own experience and not a place of authority (writing a blog on the internet does not make you an expert). I am absolutely worried about saying the wrong thing. But I do know what it feels like to be marginalized, and I feel strongly that not saying something is worse than putting my foot in my mouth and learning something new in the process. We all have to start somewhere.
Which brings me to the comment, above. It got me thinking more about the word 'privilege' and the connotations associated with it. To me, it's really easy to understand that privilege = luck. Yet 'privilege' has the connotation of something that was asked for or something that was earned. 'Privilege' carries with it the weight of society's expectations about who you are, where you came from, and what you're going to do based solely on the way you look. It's a higher profile word - a fancy word you'll find deep in the pages of a thesaurus.
Whereas 'luck', well that's just plain dumb luck. Anyone can be lucky, and you couldn't know it from looking at them. You don't need to feel guilty about luck.
Whether you call it luck or privilege or fate or God's will, the point is we all need to recognize the existence of these invisible "booster seats" and work to counteract the imbalance.
I could argue that I have worked incredibly hard and that's why I'm sitting here right now writing this. I could point to the fact that I put myself through school working nearly full-time my entire 4-years of school. I could say that I landed my dream job because I'm smart and talented and hardworking and brilliant. But it would ignore the obvious: I am privileged to be here.
The fact that I was even in a position to apply to the University of Washington was due, in part, to being born into a white, middle class family. I grew up with food and clothing and a place to call home. I went to decent schools. Both of my parents were involved in my life, even after their divorce. We weren't rich and famous, but the reality is I was set up by 'luck' - and by the greater socialization of our culture - to succeed. I didn't ask for this privilege, but I'd be naive to think it wasn't real and that I don't still benefit from it every day.
This makes it my job to use my position for good. To give a voice to others who have been marginalized. It doesn't mean I need to feel guilty, only that I should have an awareness of the power differential and use that position to help those who, circumstantially, don't have the same inherent privileges. I hope you'll join me.