Noun; A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.
My name is Rob. I am an English, cisgender, university educated, middle class, right-handed, married, protestant, straight, white male. In other words, someone with a LOT of social privilege. Quick disclaimer: I am not always fully aware of my privilege, yet. I am still learning, discussing, trying. This blog is an invitation to join with me, not an attempt to have all of the answers!
Privilege isn't something that we can earn, and we may be privileged in some aspects but not others. Privilege is something that gives us a step up in society by nature of our identity, most often because of our race, gender, sexual orientation, and abledness. Did you know that the taller you are the more likely you are to be chosen for a leadership role? Or that going to uni gives you a huge advantage when looking for work? And if you’re a straight white man… well. The world is your oyster.
I will say at this point, having privilege doesn't mean you are exempt from life's challenges. It just means that you will never be discriminiated against because of that aspect of your identity. For example, a white man will not be discriminated against because of their race or gender, but if they are part of the LGBT+ community they might be discriminated against based on their sexuality. Often if someone points out our privilege, we can get defensive and try to justify ourselves. But our privilege is not inherently a bad thing - the important thing is how we choose to be aware of our privilege, use it help those with less privilege and unlearn some of our own biases and preferences. This blog is not about starting a witch hunt for people with privilege, but it is about how I have become aware of my own privilege, the ways in which I don’t hold privilege, and how I am trying to redress the power balances in my life.
Working for SCM has made me much more aware of my own privilege and has also shown me how to go about redressing these imbalances. One of the main problems is that privilege is a systemic issue. The way that the our society is set up, the way Church is, the way we make friends; almost everything is set up to benefit those with privilege, like me. This means that people whom society at large doesn't value will get left out, their voices unheard, their gifts and talents unused. To redress this balance I have started doing some very small things; not being the first to talk when asked for feedback or in a meeting, reading about intersectionality, and making sure I am pulling my weight at home, for a start. There is so much we can do to check our own privilege and fight against the system, but first we must realise how little we know and put the effort in to learn. Recognising and doing something about power imbalances is not about making you feel guilty for your privilege, it is about rallying people to join the cause. As I said earlier, your privilege is not something you can do much about, you didn't choose to be white or to be able-bodied or right-handed. But you can choose to challenge the injustices you see around you.
This blog will not be anything new for many of you. That's a good thing! For those who are still learning, though (which I would hope it most people in one way or another) there is plenty of information out there in the world that will help us understand and recognise privilege. But understanding it is not where this journey finishes; it will always requires our direct action. Partner with those who experience oppression, at church (which historically has a bad rep for being pretty oppressive!) and in society at large. Make space for their voices to be heard, and their experiences to be shared and acknowledged. Think about where you fit on the privilege scale - watch this video to help! It is up to us to educate ourselves, not for those without privilege to show us the way. It is up to us to see the worth of all people, to allow each person their dignity and to see God in all people. Will you join me in my learning?