by MADYSEN RAUCH - March 21, 2021 - In a rapidly changing world, we all have difficulty keeping up with new realities and perspectives, but how can you get started?
Broadly put, privilege is unearned benefits or advantages obtained by people of a specific group or identity solely for their belonging to that particular group. But the truth is, a single definition doesn’t fit any one person’s reality. Each person has their own privileges, with no two people having the exact same experiences as a result. As a white person, from my position of privilege, it is important I say that perhaps one of the most important things we can do is that when someone is talking, simply listen. When someone tells us that something we have done or said is discriminatory or reflects our privilege, we don’t get to tell them that it doesn’t. The same goes for when someone shares their experiences, we don’t get to determine or question their validity. Learning to listen to others is the key to learning our own privilege, and through this we can begin to understand and use our own privilege. Using privilege in the right ways is the next step to this, using your experience and understanding obtained through listening to help lessen the oppressions of privilege. As a white, economically stable person, I recognize the need for myself and others to commit to using our privilege in the right way, towards its erasal entirely. As a result, I am writing this article to help all of us find ways to use our privilege to make a positive impact.
1. Get Involved in the Conversation—You won’t know everything, and that’s okay, just be sure you are willing to listen and admit when you are wrong and be willing to learn. Engaging in the conversation doesn’t have to be hard, all it takes is a phone call or conversation in the elevator, and listening to others is the key to empathizing and truly recognizing the reach of privilege. Conversing with others helps you stay engaged, and consistently continue to educate yourself on privilege. While it is important not to dominate the conversation, stay involved. Putting yourself into the hard conversations is difficult, but the benefits are far more valuable than the difficulty.
How to Join the Conversation:
Stay in the Conversation—When others around you are discussing privilege, listen and continue to engage rather than avoiding or leaving
Call A Friend—Whether it's once a week, or every day, have a quick phone call or even just text a friend about something new with privilege (some ideas include recent news stories, interactions you’ve had, or videos/blogs/media that you recently experienced to educate yourself)
Start the Conversation—Whether it's at work, home, or somewhere else, start the conversation. It may be tough, but it's important to raise awareness, and you could inspire others to do so as well!
2. Use Your Voice to Amplify Others—Sometimes half the battle can be just being heard. You can’t change the fact that you have privilege, but you can choose to use it for good. One of the main oppressing factors of privilege is silence and silencing those affected. Using your voice to support and amplify the voices of those oppressed by privilege is a great way to combat this and use your privilege for good. However, be careful to make sure that you aren’t speaking over others in your effort to support them, check yourself regularly and try to focus on the importance of others' voices when addressing privilege.
How to Amplify the Voices and Experiences of Others:
Don’t Draw Attention to Yourself—Even though it is natural to relate to and connect the conversation to our own lives, in privilege conversations it is important to remember your place and limitations. Staying in and participating in the conversation is important, you just also need to monitor your participation and be sure that it is accomplishing what you hope to. Paying careful attention to and giving opportunity for others to share their experiences is key, as the people who are directly affected by privilege understand and suffer from it the most.
Focus on Others—Both with your attention and influence on the attention of those around you, this is another step in amplifying the voices of others. Using your conversation to open access for others provides not only you, but also others in the conversation the opportunity to hear from people directly affected by privilege and their experiences.
Silence Others Who Interrupt—Often, when someone is sharing their experiences, especially regarding privilege, others can interrupt and draw attention away from them, both intentionally and unintentionally. Regardless of the intentions of others, you can help steer the conversation back to the speaker, with comments such as, “That’s great, but I’m also really interested in what X had to say,” or, “Hey, X, what was it you were saying?” Little comments like these not only draw the conversation back to the sharer, but also demonstrate your support of them.
3. Educate Yourself—Others don’t owe it to you to educate you on their suffering. While they know privilege best, it is important to remember that they don’t have an obligation to share their experiences or teach you how to be better. If they want to, that is amazing, be sure to listen and express your appreciation for their willingness and effort. However, you can research and educate yourself on your own.
How to Educate Yourself:
Do Online Research—With an internet full of resources and opportunities, there are countless ways to educate yourself on privilege. It takes only a few seconds to gain access to thousands of educational resources about privilege and how you can use it. Also, this method is convenient, as you can easily search for these educational resources and come back later or repeatedly.
If Others Offer to Share, Listen—While they aren’t obligated to share with you, if they offer and are willing, the experiences of those around you are priceless. Having a single conversation or call with someone can change your understanding, and listening to the experiences and teachings of those most impacted by privilege is a vital way to understanding its impact.
Experience Diverse Books/Movies/Articles/Other Media—One of the best ways to open up your views and empathize with others is to literally see experiences from their point of view, i.e. media. Media not only provides a great opportunity for you to learn and educate yourself on privilege, but it also lets you have fun and enjoy mediums/genres you enjoy! For a full list of suggested media look to our upcoming stories and consider looking at websites or blogs run by people impacted by certain privileges for recommendations!
4. Continue the Battle—Finally, but certainly not least, continue to make an effort. Continue to do your best and put time and effort into recognizing your privilege and how you can use it to help others. Even more so, consider your privileges, and how they affect your life and you are able to use them for the benefit of others. This list is by no means a complete assortment of ways to recognize and use your privilege, and there are countless other ways for you to do so. These suggestions may resonate with you, and if they do, great, do them! If not, that’s completely okay too, do a little research or ask around and find a way that does interest you. You aren’t obligated to make every effort all of the time, but just choosing a few and making consistent effort can truly change your life, not to mention others. Finally, don’t forget, while privileges such as race and gender are certainly prevalent, privilege isn’t confined to any one group, and there are countless privileges other than these that you probably haven’t thought twice about. Discovering and acknowledging new privileges will occur along your journey, so be sure to include them in your efforts for change.