Recently, I have seen a post going around on Facebook saying that white privilege doesn’t exist because people who are white experience struggles. I think these types of posts are frustrating and coming from people who may misunderstand or are defensive about privilege. As a person who experiences privilege, I want to reflect on and share my understanding of what privilege is and why some people struggle to acknowledge it. A privilege is something that is given to some and not others. In this context, it is how society grants opportunities and easier access to certain groups. In some situations, like equity, creating different access can help disadvantaged groups. However, privilege often creates an unfair advantage for someone who already has an advantage. Being white is an example of a privilege for a group that is already the dominant culture in western society.
Recognizing privilege does not mean that you have never faced hard times or difficult situations. White privilege does not invalidate the things you struggle with, it means that the color of your skin or culture happens to not be one of those disadvantages. I can acknowledge that I have white privilege and I have not experienced discrimination because of my skin tone. However, that does not invalidate the hard work that I have done or difficult situations that I have faced. You can have faced poverty, discrimination, sexism, etc., and still acknowledge that being white is a privilege. Privilege does not have to be all or nothing, you can experience privilege in some areas but have faced hardship in other areas. There are also people who experience intersectionality which is being a part of multiple non-dominant groups like being a woman of color. You could experience financial privilege because you were born into a wealthy family yet, face discrimination because of sexuality. You could experience white privilege and have experienced discrimination because you are a woman.
I think it is important to remember that when people express their struggles, it does not invalidate other people’s struggles. It should not be a competition of who has had life the worst or who has experienced the best, we all experience ups and downs. We should be recognizing where there are social inequalities and inequities, and work on minimizing those disadvantages. So, what can we do to work on recognizing privilege and minimizing discrimination? We can listen to the voices of those facing oppression and reflect on areas that we may be privileged. We can reflect on why we feel defensive when thinking about where we have experienced privilege. Do we feel defensive because we feel it invalidates our hard work? Why does someone else’s struggle make me feel like my struggle is not valid? Do I experience frustration at thinking something may have been easier to access because of something out of my control like skin color? Should that not make us feel angry that access is not equal for someone else instead of making us feel like we must defend ourselves? Hearing that I may experience life differently because of white privilege doesn’t make me want to defend my hard work, it makes me want to become an advocate so that discrimination and inequity becomes a thing of the past.