There is probably one word that divides us more than other words when it is mentioned. Not everyone likes to talk about it, wants to admit it, or maybe they don’t even think it exists. But to say it doesn’t exist and it can’t be talked about is like wiping your hands clean of something you know you can make a difference in. It’s knowing that if you thought really hard about it, it is a part of your daily life, whether you want to admit it or not. So let’s talk a little about that word.
The motherfucking P-word.
I’m sure there is somebody reading this that wants to throw darts my way. They might even be my own family and friends, but I have to say this any way. Our society was built for a cis white male, that is it. If you didn’t own land you were poor so you had less worth. Now, I’m no expert on this by any means, but I can tell you in the current climate of our society I may not have as much privilege as that cis white male, but I do have privilege as an educated cis white female.This is where intersectionality comes into play. I have to admit to that. I have to admit that society is kinder to me than to others who are different than me.
Recognizing I have privilege doesn’t mean that society isn’t fair to me as a woman. It isn’t. But I know I have more privilege than a LGBTQIA female or a female of color. I have to acknowledge that and admit I have the space and the voice to stop injustice when I see it. My voice may not carry the weight of a man’s, but I know more people will listen to me than a person of color saying the same thing, and that my friends is a construct of our institutionalized privilege.
I never gave a thought to my privilege until I was in college and my circle of friends started to expand. It became more varied and vibrant. As a result of that my eyes got to witness injustice being thrown at them and I listened to their stories about things that have been said or done to them. And I realized, I don’t have to live that. I don’t have to fear for that everyday when I wake up. People will be bullied for all sorts of reasons, but I don’t necessarily wake up fearing for my life or worried about what I may encounter because of my race or sexuality. If I don’t worry about that, it is a privilege.
I’m privileged to have grown up in a house with hard-working parents who gave me a good life and an opportunity to pursue an education. Basic education is a right, but higher education has never been deemed a right of anyone. It is a privilege for those who can afford it and have access to it. I may be in debt, because of my education, but I am privileged in the fact that I have one. Not only that, but being educated gives me opportunities that are not possible for those without a higher education.
More jobs are available to me. I can demand a higher salary. I can travel the world and teach English. Many people do not know this, but being able to teach English means you have the privilege and ability to move wherever you want. I have a bachelor’s and I spent little money on a TEFL certificate, I was born in one of the 7 English-speaking countries automatically guaranteeing that I can teach English in many countries. If I want the opportunity to teach in more than I can currently, I need to get a CELTA. I can easily do that if I feel like it with time and money.
I have privilege because I was born in a country that grants me that. I speak English and on a daily basis I have international friends who envy the fact I was born in an English-speaking country. Because English is the language of business, science, medicine and trade the world over. We learn Spanish and French in school, everyone else in the world is forced to learn English. They can’t go to college without performing well on the English section of their college entrance exams in many countries. I’m privileged I don’t need to study the language, I was brought up in it. And the fact that I can speak it means I can get a job easily teaching it. I admit that, and I fully admit I never had full teacher training. I try to do my best, but I’ll admit if it’s a little more than a circus balancing act on some days.
I have the privilege to speak my mother tongue, English. I have the privilege to know that it is the language of daily communication the world over and in my home country. I do not have to worry about being bullied for having an accent as a second language speaker or have the fear of my language dying out because of forced colonialism and imperialism that still exist to this day in many countries. I can find videos, books, TV shows, podcasts, music, and classes taught in my language. I have no fear that it will die anytime soon or that I will be the last speaker of it.
I have privilege in the fact that even with debt, I am able to travel the world. Many people have never left their city, district, state, province, or country before. Let alone have they ever flown on a plane. It is a privilege I enjoy to be able to travel freely and I have the money necessary to fulfill that desire of mine. Being American I carry one of the best passports in the world. I am not as limited in where I can travel to based on my place of citizenship, that is a privilege I enjoy and use. Not only that, but I can easily apply for a passport. For many people, they have to jump through bureaucratic loopholes to even get a passport and there are others who because of statelessness will never have access to a passport. The fact I have a passport to travel is a privilege.
I live in a foreign country and I know in the hiring process, white teachers are preferred. Preferably female ones. What do you know? I fulfill that requirement easily, just because I was born that way. Admitting I have privilege doesn’t mean that I don’t see or face discrimination of some kind. But even if I do face discrimination it doesn’t give me the right to tell other people not to talk about what they face on a daily basis, just because I don’t experience it.
I live in a foreign country, and at times there are people who hate me and say it to my face. They write it on businesses, “Foreigners not welcome.” It is also a homogeneous society of about 97% that is currently rapidly changing and having to deal with their own multicultural society that is developing at an exponential rate. But, I’m from a country that prides itself on immigration and multiculturalism so I realize there will be troubles and we can work through them. I’m a great-granddaughter of immigrants and I want to continue to openly welcome immigrants into my home country as it’s what we pride ourselves on, ‘being a land of immigrants.’
I have the ability to possess a driver’s license and an international driver’s permit. That might not seem like much to some, but it enables me to get a car or rent a car wherever I want. I wasn’t stopped from getting a license like some people are in other countries because of their gender or ethnicity. Driving is a privilege.
I have the privilege to sit on my ass while my country fights battles overseas because there is no mandatory draft of men and women and it is a personal choice to protect ones country. The fact that I have the privilege to enjoy life without protecting my country means I am enjoying liberties someone else is fighting and dying for. I have to admit that someone else gave me that privilege, because it wasn’t me who gave that to myself. And I have the utmost respect for anyone who does serve their country.
I am privileged because I am able-bodied. I can do almost anything I want with no hindrance based on my physical or mental capabilities. I walk through the world easily, I can enter buildings, get on buses, climb stairs and go anywhere I want without thinking about how difficult it will be to go somewhere. I have the privilege to know that I am of sound mind and do not have to battle with the stigma of having a mental disability or illness. That does not mean I can’t advocate for better resources for those with disabilities or mental illnesses.
Back home I have the privilege of secluding myself in the company of those of my own race if I so choose. I can do the same here among expat circles if I choose. That is a privilege and I can exercise it if I choose to. However, unlike many people who do not like being in circles of others where they are the minority, I could careless. People are people. Insecurity and fear is why you don’t want to be in the minority if you are used to being in the majority.
We all have different levels of privilege and oppression that needs to be acknowledged. The fact that both of those exist lies with intersectionality. The only way to move forward and create a better atmosphere for everyone is acknowledging and dismantling those very systems that utilize privilege as a tool to oppress others. I’m not an expert on the topic, but I do my best to educate myself on privilege and intersectionality. I do my best to acknowledge the privilege I have without the guilt. I don’t need to feel guilty as it’s a side effect of our current institutions as a country. Instead I can be an advocate so that others can have access to the same types of privilege I enjoy without being the one to lead the fight.
I can’t lead a fight that I don’t experience. I won’t ever live it no matter how hard I try to understand it. But I can’t dismiss the plight of others and their experiences just because I don’t want to acknowledge what is going on in the world and what they are experiencing. Part of having privilege is using it to be an advocate for others. One of the simplest and most powerful advocates you have probably seen in your life is a parent and their child. There is no reason as to why we can’t expand on that concept of someone with access to power to help those in spaces where they have no power.
So today all I ask is that you educate yourself. Don’t dismiss the idea of privilege and intersectionality. Address it, learn about it, engage it, and become an advocate. Don’t turn to others and ask what can you do for them. Ask yourself, what can I do for others? How can I be a better person? How can I fight oppression? I have a voice. I can use it. I may not get through to every person I talk to, but I sure as hell don’t have to sit quietly to avoid a disagreement. Remember, we can all use a little extra love in our corner to fight what oppresses us.