Privilege is such a contentious topic these days. I think people often get angry when someone points out their privilege because they believe it to be a personal attack.  For me, dissecting privilege is about uncovering the ways in which systems of racism, sexism and heteronormativity benefit some and deliberately alienate or oust others. But, people often confuse that with an accusation of conscious homophobia, racism, sexism or any other –ism – making the conversation about them and their pain. In the end, attention is taken away from the people who are suffering inside oppressive systems and, once again, put on the privileged. Sometimes I just want to shout “it’s not about you!” And, really, what’s more problematic – being accused of being oppressive, or systems of oppression and our (un)conscious decisions to uphold them? Why is it so difficult for people to examine their lives and how they’ve been privileged? Why is it such an issue to demand that the system represent us all, rather than a select few? I don’t think I’ll ever know. But I do think it is important and necessary to ask ourselves this: who gets to determine what oppression is – the people benefiting from the oppressive system? Or the oppressed?


I’ve thought hard about what privilege (and disadvantage) means in my life and come up with this short list of privileges that I’m aware of (don’t worry – I’m still thinking of more.)

  1. My privilege as a Westerner living in the US allows me to walk freely outdoors without fearing that a drone will drop a bomb on my head.
  2. As a woman who is mostly straight, I know that I can freely access the rights and benefits afforded to heterosexual couples. Understanding that some states recognize marriage between all grown adults, there are still far too many that do not. (And I say “mostly straight” because I think sexuality is much more fluid than most.)
  3. I know that if a male partner hits me, I can call the cops and it will most likely be treated as a domestic violence case – something that is not afforded to SGL couples.
  4. As a light-skinned Black woman, there are instances in which I will be treated differently than a dark-skinned Black woman. (I often talk about media images. From my perspective, even with the limited number of Black women in media – there are far more light-skinned women than dark.)
  5. I know that because I speak a certain way, people will make assumptions that I’m “better than” someone else. But the disadvantage here is that people that I interact with on the phone see me for the first time and say “you don’t look the way I imagined you would.” What does this mean? As a Black woman I have to question if they assumed I was White. Which then leads me down the road of questioning their assumptions about the ways in which Black people talk. Which brings me back to my original point, my sound affords me certain privileges. From the perspective of linguistics, standard English is not really a standard, only a variant of American English. From the perspective of society standard English is the only English that should ever be spoken. Anything that breaks away from the standard is lesser.  Historically, anyone that doesn’t speak the standard has been othered, cast as uneducated, poor, and so on.

~ by Kristen on February 22, 2013.

2 Responses to “Privilege”

  1. The fifth privilege you mentioned in your list really touched base with me when i read it. I too am often mistook for someone other than what people would expect. When people talk to me on the phone and know exactly what I look like they still question if who they’re talking to is actually me. Even my own family tells me I speak like a “white girl” when in all actuality I feel like I speak “proper”. To a lot of people I talk white and before meeting me face to face and just talking to me on the phone for instance, I don’t give off the impression that I am a black woman. Interesting that you brought that up.

  2. I really like the fact that you brought up skin color in media. When you look around you actually don’t see many darker skin females representing colored women. Reality is not everyone is a “red bone!” Even in rap lyrics they glamourize being light skin like being dark skin is equivalent to being ugly. As an African American community we have got to do better!

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