Please note while you read this: this man is a senior, philosophy major.
Around this campus, the idea of “privilege” gets tossed around quite a bit; white privilege, class privilege, and heterosexual privilege are the most commonly heard “privilege” phrases. Certainly there are perks to being a member of those classes. As a white, heterosexual, upper-class male I am less likely to be stopped by police cars, harassed for my choice in partners, and I have benefited greatly from my parents’ financial success. So yes, I do have white privilege. However, at the chance of being despised by a few more passionate activists on campus, I must admit that I’ve begun to wonder if there is something wrong with the concept of privilege.
Is the problem that I don’t get bullied for my sexuality, or is it that homosexual, transgender, and bisexual teenagers are bullied for theirs? Is the problem that I don’t get pulled over because of my race or is it that discrimination within our police force causes certain minority groups to be pulled over more often?
The problem does not lie in the privilege that certain members of society have. The problem lies in that certain members do not have access to it because of discrimination and injustice. The problem is not that a heterosexual does not get beaten up for their sexual orientation, but is that there are people who bully and harass members of the LGBTQ community.
This same principle can be extended to race privilege. The problem is not that white people are judged to be innocent before becoming guilty; it is that minorities are judged guilty before being proved innocent. Privilege becomes a problem when others are excluded because of their race, sexual orientation, or class origins. In that way, privilege is not the problem; it is the ways in which privilege is enforced and created that makes it an issue. Let me explain: say that I have $10. If I have these $10 because I worked for it in an ethical way, then there is nothing wrong with me having that money. But if I have it because I stole it, then it is an issue. The same example can be applied to how we focus on privilege.
By acknowledging this, we can shift the focus from what certain people have to what certain people don’t have. Most of us would like to see privileges extended to all of society, or at the very least give everybody opportunities for those privileges. With that in mind, can we switch out the phrase white, heterosexual, or upper class privilege? Instead of white privilege how about minority disenfranchisement? Or the glass ceiling of certain classes? While these are not the most creative names, you can understand my point of the matter.
Does this mean that the work done by advocates of white privilege is bad? Not at all, there are still many things to work on in this country and the usage of the concept is almost never intended to be malicious. However, it is time to retire the name of the phrase and adjust our phrasing in a way that better reflects the situation itself.
Some people may say that we need to use the term white privilege as a means to prevent casting off certain problems as isolated to certain groups. However, if that truly is the case, it is completely unnecessary. Many of us on campus will listen and are willing to talk about how discrimination still plays a part in our society about the plight of transgender individuals or about how race causes issues in this country. Let’s start focusing on solving racial, sexuality, and class problems instead of focusing on who has privilege.
Which leads to a final point about the usage of the word privilege. It doesn’t bring individuals together. It pulls us apart by separating us into distinct categories. In fact, some people might cast off my entire argument as simply justifying my privilege. Ironically, by accusing me of thinking something is true only because of my race, gender, or economic status, you are committing the exact same discrimination that has caused so many problems in the past.