Why is it necessary to understand privilege?
The below piece is a guest submission by Purva Sethji and you can connect to her directly on her Instagram page or comment below if you have any questions.
In school we were taught about rights and privilege, I often muddled up the two at that time. We were naive to understand the impact these words can have when mixed up or used in an inappropriate manner. Cut down to over a decade later where everyone is talking about privilege, especially today in the presence of social media where expressing something is just a click away. It has gone from trying to understand and acknowledge privilege to straight-up calling out, more recently in the form of social media posts.
Being a female I fall a step short on the privilege ladder, but I definitely have advantages and benefits over others, the privilege that comes with being straight, of having the freedom to make choices in any and every field, be it education or job preferences. Yes, I am aware of it, I acknowledge it and act accordingly as and when I can because the change of perspective is a constant work in progress.
On the contrary, every social media post I read or rather an open discussion with fellows where privilege is being talked about, I have personally felt attacked, as if I don’t deserve the life I am able to live, as if I haven’t earned it. I am sure I might not be the only one feeling this way.
When nationwide lockdown commenced, there were several posts doing the rounds mentioning something like, it’s your privilege that lets you stay at home in peace whereas there are others who have nothing to keep them safe. Not to deny the intention of it wasn’t wrong, it did not mean to attack anyone or any group of people, but unfortunately, the feelings it gave rise to were of defence, internally we start defending our stand and saying that even we are prone to hardships.
Acknowledging our own privilege or encouraging others to check theirs is a great place to start from. But is it enough?
We are used to listening since childhood that, consider yourself lucky for all the luxury you have got, not everyone is fortunate. As a result of being reminded of it time and again, we end up feeling as if we haven’t earned the life we are living and don’t deserve it. We constantly beat ourselves up for the privilege we possess as a result of our societal status, our identity, simply on the basis of things that are not in our control.
Yes, different people have different sets of privileges over others: male privilege, privilege on the basis of sexual identity and preferences, able-bodied privilege, privilege on basis of physical attributes, privilege on basis of social status, monetary privileges, to name a few. We have grown a habit of pointing these out while having casual conversations and immediately those casual conversations heat up and defence mechanisms of individuals come into the scene, and believe me there is no age bar among which such conversations take place.
Kids in school are found saying that they don’t want to be called privileged just because their parents are able to buy things for them, that they too face hardships not everyone knows about.
The entire cycle of ‘Check your Privilege’ started because people needed to acknowledge it and act accordingly in the form of actions and not words, to open their eyes to a perspective they might be missing, rather than living in a bubble ignorant of world truths.
The goal is not to take privileges away from the ones who have them, but in turn, extend it to the ones that have been barred from them.
To understand this I asked a few of my friends what privilege meant to them. Most of them said that they were blessed with the advantages they have from birth, the wide spectrum of choices they have in their life, that every time they saw someone without a roof over the head or no food they were more aware of the place they stand at, the fact that they don’t have to fight for the basic necessities. At the same time also throwing light on the matter that even the most privileged have their own battles to fight, which may or may not be understood by the rest. Isn’t that true if we think about it? Surely there is a huge gap which can’t be bridged that easily. It is not a competition about who is more oppressed than the other, the minute we divert the discussion and turn it into a battle we indicate that being called a privileged person is not something we are comfortable hearing or accepting.
Maybe we are misunderstanding the meaning of privilege. Being privileged does not mean being immune to hardships in life, but having advantages and benefits one receives on the basis of the nature of their identity.
The gap can be mended and we can move towards a more harmonious state of being.
By listening to an individual's story and empathising. Trying to understand a perspective, an ideology that may be different from our own. To understand the gravity of the case in point.
By understanding that each identity is different and nuanced and comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. As basic as we can get, take the instance of a pair of siblings, brother, and sister, a few years apart in age. Both of them come with the same social identity, yet their set of privileges differ; brother has an upper hand of male privilege over his sister. Most of us have witnessed or experienced such dynamics within close vicinity. Every individual is wired in a different way, the key is understanding the nuances everyone comes with.
By not feeling defensive or guilty when discussing privilege. Acting in that way is not going to bring about any change. To bring some change we need to extend hands and work towards changing the status quo and try to equalise the power.
Yes, we are far more privileged than the majority. Not everyone gets to sit around tapping away on their keyboards blabbering about the very thing in discussion ‘Privilege’. The irony!
Living in a world where social media dictates narratives, giving away negative feedback in the name of criticism is nothing new. And when it comes to talking about privilege, we never fail to point out the benefits a few have over others.
We need to stop calling out people because of something that is not under their control, and if you are somebody behind a screen tapping away and attacking people merely on basis of their online portrayal placing baseless arguments like, ‘you need to think about the less privileged section of the society rather than……’ or ‘ you are at this position just because of your family status, you don’t deserve it’. Kindly wrap up your fingers, keep every device aside and self introspect, understand the responsibility that comes along with the word that is being thrown around casually. We need not go around forming judgements about people from surface-level information. This was behind the screen instance, real-life talks are no different.
The important thing we forget is, that the privileged or underprivileged are not stand-alone identities. We all are part of a pyramid where there are multiple tiers, and every time a tier fumbles the entire structure falls weak. Those are the stages of hierarchy that exist and we can’t live in its denial. All we can do is support each other, despite the differences.
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