This post was inspired by the fantastic video from Warren. Which is kind of meta in a strange way, as I believe his video was inspired by the story about Bioware which ran here.
I’ve been thinking about privilege, what it is, and some of the reasons why it exists.
One definition, although I haven’t managed to encapsulate it neatly in a cool quote or soundbite, is that privilege is when the world just works for you, and you don’t have to think about it.
If I want to get up and go for a shower, I don’t have to worry about how I will get there, how I will get in, if I am in danger of slipping, or if I will have enough energy to complete the task. This is currently able bodied privilege. Also, if I look at myself naked in a mirror, I don’t experience a jarring disconnect between what my brain says my gender is and what my eyes say my physical sex is. This is cis privilege.
Once I have had the shower (I have the privilege of having enough money that I don’t have to ration the shower due to worries about the gas/electric running out) I can get dressed. I don’t have to worry about struggling to put clothes on, and I have a nice selection of clean, good-quality items to choose from.
So much privilege, so many things that I don’t have to think about. If I want to go to the shops I can just grab my handbag and go. So many things I don’t need to think about. I don’t need to plan my route around obstacles, or worry that my energy or pain levels will stop me before I get to the shops and back, or check that I have the required medication or assistive aids with me.
I don’t need to worry that random police officers will stop and search me based on my skin colour or how I look. I don’t have to worry that people will stare, or point, or make comments due to my gender presentation, or my assistive device, or my visible scars, or any other physical aspect of my appearance.
When I get to the shops I am able to read and understand the signs, and add up prices in my head to check that it falls within my budget. I do not have to worry about struggling with basic literacy and numeracy due to an overworked school system. Nor do I have to worry about struggling to understand the language of a foreign country that I have been forced to flee to due to violence and persecution in my own country. If the person at the checkout chats to me as he or she scans my shopping I can chat back, without hearing problems, language barriers, social anxiety or struggling to understand how this works getting in the way.
The point I’m trying to make is that privilege is about all the things you don’t have to think about, unless you choose to. I’ve probably missed out many types of privilege in the example above, for which I can only apologise.
But what causes privilege to occur? And how can we change the world to lessen and eventually remove the gaps between privileged and oppressed, to topple the kyriarchy?
There have been many responses to the recent BioWare story, and many of them absolutely wonderful. In fact, a great many of them have come from straight men and women wishing to point out that the “Straight Male Gamer” whom complained so vehemently to BioWare in no way represents them. What hasn’t been addressed much, is the issue of privilege itself and what it means, apart from in the excellent response from BioWare themselves. We recently stumbled across a YouTube video that addresses just that thing, which in our opinion is almost as awesome as the very story that inspired it. It turns out that the video itself was inspired by the story! [ed note: *blush*]
Privilege, sadly, is a huge issue, though often a contraversial one. The word can often be overused, and the concept can even be used as a bitter slur by those who find their selves less privileged than another. Even so, that doesn’t negate the fact of it’s existence or the impact it has.
The video comes from Warren; a 25 year old gay, transgender, married American immigrant, currently studying Biology at grad school. In it, he gives us not just an idea of what privilege is, but also an explanation of what privilege does and what it means to the people affected by it. It could easily serve as a perfect reply to Mr. Straight Male Gamer, but could likewise be applied to just about any situation. What we found especially brilliant about this video is that he also offers a suggestion as to how the absence of privilege and a sense of automatic entitlement can actually, in some ways, lead to a richer life. He also reminds us of the many groups whom are affected by it, including the little discussed negative affect it can sometimes have on those that hold it their selves.
Put simply, privilege is the power we don’t know we have. It’s the choices and options that we take for granted while others cannot. It’s the mastery of our own freedoms and destinies that we assume as normal, often without ever realising that others simply don’t have the same rights or abilities by the simple circumstances of their existence.
As ever, and as Warren even requests, please feel free to leave your thoughts.