Check your privilege; check your expiration dates
BY RACHEL HOROWITZ
I’ve wanted to write about privilege for a while.
Did you cringe while reading that word? It’s pretty common, since “privilege” itself is often depicted as an affront to the individual. No one wants to think of themselves as privileged, especially if they have been disadvantaged in one or more areas of their lives.
So I’ll start by writing about coupons.
In every house I’ve rented, I’ve always had a designated coupon drawer. I never questioned if my friends had coupons lying around, because this was just how I grew up. My mom would spend hours on Saturday mornings cutting coupons out of the local paper, and the rest of us would have to use them until they expired. I distinctly remember one time I forgot to take coupons on a trip to the mall and my mom had me return the clothes until I could buy them again with the coupon. My teenage self often became annoyed by the inconvenience of needing to dig through the coupon drawer before going anywhere, but it is something we couldn’t afford to take for granted.
One day, I was walking around that same mall, which restricted the hours that teenagers could shop. I tried to act innocent and luckily escaped “mall jail.” However, I witnessed security guards stopping young people — primarily people of color — both inside and outside of stores, questioning their reason for being there and sometimes whether they were trying to steal from the stores.
So you see, even though my family was never wealthy, I did have privilege in another area: being white. This still plays into account today, when I avoid harsh consequences for a traffic ticket or avoid suspicion while walking through neighborhoods. But even though privilege may commonly align with race, it’s not the only factor. Other factors include gender, sexual orientation, citizenship, religion, physical ability and level of education.
It may help to imagine privilege as a coupon that makes one specific part of your life easier. We can ask: “How does this part of my identity affect me? Does it make this specific situation easier or harder?” Sometimes your coupon is limited — as a woman, I can cry without being seen as “weak” or “childish,” but I am more likely to be mistaken for a secretary.
There is one activity called the privilege walk, where facilitators ask people a series of questions about their life experiences. “Take a step forward if English is your first language.” “Take a step back if you have been bullied based on something you can’t change.” By the end of the activity, the participants are no longer standing in a line, and some may be many paces away from others. The activity’s purpose is not to blame anyone for having more power or privilege or for receiving more help in achieving goals, but to have an opportunity to identify both obstacles and benefits experienced in our life.
If you gain one thing from reading this, I hope it’s the courage to look into your own identity and how it affects your life. If we cringe at our privilege, we continue to miss the point.
Rachel Horowitz resides in Chatham County and works in Pittsboro. She is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published at Thu, 24 Dec 2020 00:00:00 +0000