What Privilege Looks Like
These three examples may be helpful the next time you challenge a manager or teacher who denies individuality to you or your child.
The term “privilege” is used to make assumptions about people based on what they look like. It’s acceptable in many workplaces and schools to tell a black man he is privileged for being a man, or a white woman she’s privileged for being white. This should be offensive, because it ultimately denies a person’s individual experiences, adversities, and triumphs.
We need to start advancing a different worldview that includes showing how privilege actually functions in our society. Taking inequality seriously requires critical thinking, not pointing at skin colour or gender to draw conclusions about a person’s life.
Here are three types of real privilege from recent news stories. These examples may be helpful the next time you challenge a manager or teacher who denies individuality to you or your child.
Democrats who once supported, or at least embraced, “defund the police” are now running in the other direction. It turns out that cutting police budgets leads to increases in crime, and that’s unpopular among voters. Shocker.
In last week’s state of the union address, President Joe Biden stated, “We should all agree, the answer is not to defund the police. It’s to fund the police.”
President Biden wants to move past the truth that his political party is largely responsible for “defund the police.” Democrats exploited Black Lives Matter and other protest movements that advocate for defunding police departments. The academic journal Science Advances published research that shows President Biden may have been elected in 2020 precisely because of these movements.
President Biden avoiding the political consequences of “defund the police” is unaccountability privilege in action. But it gets worse. One of the most vocal advocates for cutting police budgets, US Rep. Ayanna Pressley, has avoided the public safety consequences for “defund the police.” While Rep. Pressley pushed to take policing services away from working and middle class families, she spent 50,000 in taxpayer dollars on private security.
How many times will journalists ask Rep. Pressley about her hypocrisy? As many times as President Biden will be.
Woe is Me Privilege
For months, governments in Canada threatened the ability of a large number of citizens to provide for their families. The Ottawa trucker convoy emerged against vaccine mandates and other policies. Yet, how much of the political and media attention on the truckers focused on their actual grievances?
Unfortunately, attention isn’t paid based on the severity of one’s grievances or the power imbalances at play. For many working and middle class families, attracting attention is an uphill battle made harder by the lack of time and energy one has for advocacy when bills are piling up.
Woe is Me privilege is reserved for people who do have their grievances heard, even if they’re less severe or impacting far fewer people. Celebrities and others who have relationships with mainstream media enjoy this privilege.
Consider the example of Los Angeles Lakers point guard Russell Westbrook. While journalists ignore or smear families harmed by government policies, mainstream media gives Westbrook a platform because of the trauma he supposedly endures from a critical nickname. NBA fans chant “Westbrick” at Westbrook because his shots on the court are so bad they look like throwing bricks.
Westbrook shared with reporters: “Westbrick, to me, is now shaming. It’s like shaming my name. It’s my legacy for my kids. It’s a name that means more, not just to me, but to my wife, my mom, my dad are the ones that kind of paved the way for me.”
For a guy being paid $44 million per year and having a bad season, a critical nickname is par for the course. And yet, his grievances are covered by the same media outlets that treated the truckers as if they didn’t have legitimate concerns.
The same politicians that talk about race or gender being a source of privilege seem completely unaware of the wealth privilege that they experience on a daily basis.
Consider how the Biden administration has reacted to soaring gas prices. As the average American family is hit hard by having to pay more at the pumps, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg offered a unique solution: “"rural to suburban to urban communities can all benefit from the gas savings of driving an EV (electric vehicle)."
Imagine saying this so casually, when the average cost of an electric vehicle in the US is about $50,000. But that’s what wealth privilege looks like. Assuming others have access to the same lifestyle and resources that you do.
The New York Times offers another striking example of wealth privilege. In a report on the impact of school closures titled “It’s ‘Alarming’: Children Are Severely Behind in Reading,” the Times uses a subtitle that read, “the fallout of the pandemic is just being felt.” Working and middle class families have long been aware that school closures hurt their kids. Those who are wealthy enough to have been sheltered from this reality are now waking up to what’s happened to the learning development of students.