Acknowledging Our Privilege

Entitlement and privilege have become popular terms in the last few years. It’s not surprising to me that the disenfranchised among us have finally begun to have their voices heard in this regard. What’s more surprising is the backlash that it has resulted in. Straight, white, men are furious to be called privileged. But why? Would it make you mad if someone called you fortunate? Rich? Well-educated? Privilege is something to be grateful for. It’s not an insult, just an observation. Something that only needs to be recognized and acknowledged, so that we can work together to even the playing field. I don’t know why it is so difficult for so many people to admit that there are many who are worse off.

I think that people are misinterpreting the meaning of the word privilege. Just because you’re at the top of the social hierarchy doesn’t mean that you don’t have any problems or difficulties in your life. It doesn’t mean every moment of your existence has been easy. It just means that despite the problems you have, there are a lot of people who have a different set of problems that are based on their gender, race, ethnicity, etc. Problems that they cannot resolve or avoid. All these people are asking for right now is for the world to see their struggles. Is that really too much to ask?

Apparently it is. One of the ironic things about discussions like these is the privileged side’s refusal to even for a moment put their own thoughts and feelings aside in order to pay attention to the needs and concerns of others. Refusing to see others’ perspectives is it’s own form of privilege.

Even though I am a woman, I am still well-educated, middle class, and white. I fully own that despite my gender, I am extremely privileged and catch myself acting entitled all the time. Maybe it’s just because I’ve always had self-deprecation in my blood, but it’s never been an issue for me to acknowledge that. I have no problem admitting that I haven’t “earned” most of the comforts I enjoy every day. I’m not any better than someone who lives on government assistance, works at a minimum wage job, is unemployed, addicted to drugs, or even a criminal. Luck and random chance are the only things that separate us. It doesn’t harm me or my ego to say that. In fact, I believe it benefits me to consider my life from the perspective of those less fortunate. People that go through life with a sense of superiority and entitlement are not generally the happiest people. When you move through the world as if you are owed certain things, you are asking to be aggravated and disappointed.

I was considering my own unconscious sense of entitlement as I drove to work this morning. I have a tendency to get pretty irritated while driving. Why can’t these people drive?! Why are they all in my way!? It seems like every other car on the highway is merely there to inconvenience me. When I stop and reflect of that self-righteous anger though, I want to laugh. This world is not only for me. Why do I choose to focus on the things that bother me instead of focusing on what a sheer miracle it is that I have a highway to drive on at all? I allow myself to get so fed up with society to the point that I often hate humanity all together. Yet I forget to acknowledge how awful my life would be without the foundation our ancestors have established. I should be honored to call myself a human being, not angry and ashamed. Sure humans aren’t perfect, but we’ve done some incredible things and I’m happy that I get to benefit from the hard work of all those before me.

I wish that those who feel insulted by being called privileged or entitled would instead feel grateful that they have it so good. The problems of the world are not solely on your shoulders just because you were born white, just as the terrible conditions faced by minorities are not their fault for not being white. The conversation has somehow become about blame, when it should be about finding solutions. I think another misconception is about what these solutions will look like. No one wants to strip the privileged of their health and happiness. We merely want to raise the rest of the world up to where they are, and stop blaming those in need and writing them off as deserving of the lot they’ve gotten in life.

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