Privilege, Power, and Difference

Blog prompt: Describe a situation in which you benefitted from a privilege or social advantage not available to others.

As a white, middle class, able-bodied, married person I experience privilege every day and, as a result, it’s quite easy to overlook instances where I experience privilege. I might look around and ask, “What privilege?” Systems definitely privilege me as a white person: as noted by Peggy McIntosh, I can go into stores and not be followed. I can be kind of a dork (idiot), which might be unfairly attributed to my gender (i.e., ditzy female, woman driver), it’s generally not attributed to my race. I have never worried that I would be denied a home loan or that I would receive a less than favorable interest rate on said loan because of my race. When I walk into a car dealership, no one wonders if I’ll be able to actually afford the car that interests me. It took me until I was in my 40’s to recognize and confront the privilege that being white affords me. Up until then, I had been aware of the impact of male privilege on my life, but quite unaware of white privilege. It’s shocking, really, that I could have lived so long without understanding the unearned benefits I enjoyed simply because of the color of my skin. I had been aware of injustice, of bigotry, of civil rights issues, but I had missed the whole concept of privilege and how I benefit every day just because I’m white. One benefit of being privileged is that we can remain unaware of our privilege, we never have to confront it. But once we’re awakened to the injustices of privilege, we can’t help but confront it. Not sure what white privilege looks like? Take a look at this handy animation based on Peggy McIntosh’s groundbreaking article, White Privilege and Male Privilege (1988).

What I have noticed more recently is that as a heterosexual, I’m free to marry the person I love, no questions asked. We share health benefits, we share all the social benefits of marriage, and no one questions who my partner is (this is not just because we’re heterosexual but also because we’re both white). I have friends, though, who are not able to marry and even though their employers offer health benefits for domestic partners, they are taxed on those benefits in a way that my husband and I are not. Here I benefit from policy embedded in personnel procedures that advantage some members of our organizational community over others. We can certainly work with our own districts to be sure all families have access to health benefits; we’ll want to work with our congressional representatives to ensure these benefits are treated equally regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

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