Nowadays, privilege is a word we hear in many contexts. There are so many privileges people can have: the colour of your skin can bring you privilege, your social status, your income, your place of origin, your passport, your visa status, your language, your accent, your facial features, your gender identity, your sexual orientation, your body, your family background, your health, your religion, your education…
I used to get defensive when I heard variations of “Check Your Privilege”. When people have thrown this at me with resentment in their voice, I couldn’t help but feel a bit attacked. I used to get upset by it. After all, I can’t even control or take credit for some of my privileges. Still, I used to try to excuse myself: “I didn’t choose this skin”, “It’s not even my money, it’s my parents! I had nothing to do with it!”, “Hey! I worked hard for my education!”… All I really wanted to say was: “It’s not my fault!”
It took me a few years to realise that it is not really about “fault” and that denying my privilege wasn’t helping anyone.
As I grew up I learned of the many ways I myself are oppressed… because I am a woman; because how “white” I am depends on where I am in the world; because while in Europe “I am not-so-brown for a Mexican woman but definitely someone of colour”, in my own country I am “a whitexican (White Mexican)” and hence, part of the privileged sector in Mexico; because I speak “good English for a ‘Hispanic’” (whatever that word means); because it is impressive that I can travel to other countries and be so educated for “someone from a Third World country”, and other things people have said to me.
Then I learned the names of the structures and systems in place that shape/shaped our world and which have set the social hierarchy that gives privileges to some at the expense of others: Patriarchy, Colonialism, Imperialism, Neocolonialism, Structural Racism, Heteronormativity, Capitalism… just to name a few.
Learning these names and what they mean gave me insight into how the world perceived me and how my identities intersect and give me a place in the world in the eyes of others.
I understand now why the people who told me to check my privilege sounded so resentful. And I must admit, I was afraid of their resentment. I kept arguing because I wanted them to know that I wasn’t their enemy. That is why I kept making excuses for my privileges and even tried to convince them that life had also been hard/difficult/unfair to me. It came to a point where other people and I even engaged in the Who-Is-Less-Privileged Game as if it were a competition to see who is more wretched than who and therefore deserves more… What? … Praise? Credit? We didn’t even know what we were fighting for.
Now a wonderful word comes to mind: Empathy.
We all need Empathy. Empathy is Key. So are Kindness, Understanding, Open-Mindedness, and Compassion.
I realised that I didn’t want to engage anymore in the Who-Is-Less-Privileged game, its podium wasn’t one I wanted to be on and, moreover, the competition was too great… There is always going to be someone less privileged than I, there is always going to be someone more privileged than I. My complex intersectional identity has made me face both wonderful and difficult situations throughout my life and I thank it for I have grown from these challenges.
I don’t shrink back from “Check Your Privilege” anymore. I have realised that when people point out your privilege they are not saying that you haven’t worked hard or faced difficulties before, it just means that some parts of your identity (maybe your whiteness, maybe your heterosexuality, maybe you being male, maybe your nationality, etc) is not a factor for which you will be oppressed or discriminated. What helps now is to shift our perspectives from feeling guilty for what we have to feeling grateful for our affluence.
The problem with some privileges though is that they often come at the expense of others because when creating the ONE as the norm, the OTHER suffers. If we find ourselves in the position of the ONE, the best thing we can do is not to bring ourselves down but to raise others up, to make it so that they are not THE OTHERs at all, to USE our privilege to bring attention to what needs to change in order to live in an equal world, to listen to other people, to stand with them, to pass them the microphone. Yes, the resentment in some voices may still be there. Just know that feeling guilty won’t help nor will it help to cancel them for their resentment. Reproaching others for their privilege doesn’t help either but making them aware of it will.
Nevertheless, no matter how careful we are sometimes in these talks and debates and exchanges… people can still be offended or feel attacked, walls come up, defensiveness kicks in… Survival mode. Every man for himself. We must strive to change this, we must if we want to live in a better world! If someone says something that moves you, that makes you react first just… Breathe. Rather than engaging in what can become an argument try to listen, hear their perspective. Don’t take it personally, a lot of people talk from their pain. We must strive to put our ego aside and just listen rather than defend.
Know that if someone is reproaching you, insulting you, or verbally attacking you, it’s a sign that they are hurting. And for some reason when humans are hurt… they tend to hurt other humans… as if that would lessen their own hurt… but it doesn’t. We all need to remember that the next time we want to hurt as we have been hurt. When that instinct kicks in just… Breathe into it. Breathe into your pain, it will help lessen its sting.
And if we want to change the world for the better we have to be willing to listen to those whose voices have not been heard before. All the riots… they are screams, pleas to be heard… Maybe if we listened, they wouldn’t have to shout so loud.
And if we truly want to help we must muster all our empathy, all our kindness, all our open-mindedness, all our courage, and bravery to listen to others but also to look inside, to check our privilege, to acknowledge it, to see what behaviors, attitudes, ideas within ourselves do not serve to create a kinder world, and to care enough to change them. More than anything, what could heal us most of all is to realise the Oneness of us all. Oneness doesn’t mean we are the same because, in truth, we are all different, but it just means that spiritually, energetically, soulfully We Are All One, we are all divinity expressed in different individuations. We have all been in each other’s shoes before, we have all been everyone. There are no victims and villains, we are all here just trying to wake each other up and to evolve. We are all mirrors of each other and what we give to others we give to ourselves because there is really only one of us. So let’s give each other Understanding, Empathy, Compassion, Solidarity, Kindness, Help, Love… And watch the world change.