Privileged Enough?

Our culture is going through a fraught, difficult, and long-overdue conversation about privilege now. That’s no secret, and it’s likely to go on for a while.

It seems there are at least three ways of participating in that conversation. One is to point out the ways in which other people are privileged. Another is to point out one’s own privileges. And another is to ask the really hard questions: what responsibilities do my privileges entail, and how well am I fulfilling them?

We’re all a part of this conversation, since we’re all part of this complicated culture with all of its wabi-sabi. And we’re each able to choose how we’re going to participate: we can choose what to say, to whom, with what aim.

If you start out looking for people more prejudiced than you, you’ll never run out of examples. There will always be someone more privileged to point to. And relative privilege can be worth pointing out from time to time.

But I wonder if a more interesting and challenging question might be to ask what difference we can make with the privilege we have, however large or small. Or to ask what difference a very privileged person might be able to make if only she could see things our way — and then to ask how she might be helped to see with new eyes.

This is not to deny the hurt, nor to say it’s fair or just to ask people to put in yet more excruciating “emotional labor” or years of waiting in order to change their circumstance. But it is to say that if we want to change the culture, we might have to change how we show up in the conversation.

After all, everyone has a voice. It’s up to each of us to decide whether we’re going to focus on relative privilege or responsibly, generously, helpfully using the power we already have.