Speaking From a Position of Privilege

13/52 : Charte canadienne des droits et libertés - Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
I first wrote this post a bit over a year ago, after my study group and I had a discussion about the immigrant population in Denmark, why this group at times cause problems in our society, and what we can do to change things.

I am a firm believer that often, the issues that arise with (some of) these young people is to do with not feeling wanted in the Danish society, not fitting in and not knowing how to fit in. Having to constantly question if everything bad that happens to them is to do with the colour of their skin or their name, which isn’t “Danish”.

  • Was the reason I wasn’t called in for a job interview because I’m not ethnically Danish?
  • Did I get poor service in that shop because I speak with an accent?
  • Is the reason I didn’t get the job, that I have the “wrong” skin colour?

In addition to this, you can add the likelihood of having received less education, due to less support from parents which might not have been able to help with homework and give the needed support. Not having learnt from birth how to behave in different social circles to become successful (whether that is getting proper service in a shop, behaving on the job, in different social situations etc.)

Privilege

One of my group members and I didn’t really see eye-to-eye on this, and I told her it might be difficult to relate, when you are speaking from a position of privilege. By this I don’t mean that she gets “whatever she wants” from her parents, she is very successful, hardworking and a wonderful woman. What I mean is, her background makes it a lot easier to achieve these things, than it would be for someone from a less privileged background.

I also consider myself incredibly privileged, and aside from the fact that her family is from a slightly higher social class than mine (which here in Denmark, doesn’t say as much as it would in other countries with greater class discrepancies) I think we have pretty much all the same privileges:

  • White
  • Western
  • Cis-gendered (I.e., not trans)
  • Heterosexual
  • Able-bodied
  • Normal sized
  • Educated

Like I said to her, the only way we could be any more privileged is if we had been born male!

People like us are the “norm” – if not statistically across the world, then in all the media, movies, literature etc.

Questions

When you speak, do you speak from a position of privilege? And do you (try to) keep in mind, what it’s like not to be born with that privilege? 

Here’s a few privilege check-lists that are well worth reading, and thinking about

The Male Privilege Checklist – Alas, a Blog

Straight Privilege Checklist

Able-bodied Privilege

Being Poor

On Body Sizes

The Non-Trans Privilege Checklist – Alas, a Blog

Think women have achieved equality? Think again.

7 Comments

  1. What a great topic. I work with the public every day and when I get frustrated with someones attitude I try to put myself in their shoes. I think you are spot on when you say that a lot of people haven’t had the privilege to learn how to behave in a way that earns them the respect of others and success in social settings. The great thing is that we can all learn from one another!

    • Thank you for your comment – and welcome!
      We can definitely all learn from each other – thankfully! Trying to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is always a great tactic – although it can be quite difficult.

      • It can be difficult! The least we can do is make a good effort :-).

  2. I am trying more and more to think from other people’s perspectives though I doubt I truly get it nor do I always succeed. I think God put Samer and his friends in my life to teach me some of these things.

    • Thank you for your comment Susanne. It can definitely be difficult to see things from another person’s perspective – and at times it might be impossible, since some things you really can’t understand if you haven’t been there. I definitely believe people in our lives can challenge us and help push our boundaries and understanding of each other – if we let them.

  3. This very much reminds me of the “Lowest difficulty level” article a while ago, which I liked so much. It’s (unhappily) reality that people start their lives with unequal preconditions, and then they’re often judged as if they had started with the same ones. Thinking about all of this implies (for me) that it’s important to draw a line between understanding and accepting. For example, I can understand that somebody who was terribly dispriviledged became a criminal, but this doesn’t mean I accept it (= find it okay), simpl because it’s not okay for anybody to harm others. But I can understand what preceded what’s now. I don’t like it. However, this doesn’t mean that I give up people who behave like that. To the contrary! I think that our societies lack from a lack of understanding of people who became something like that. So, we don’t need something like, “everything is okay” acceptance. We need honest understanding, and appreciation of the individually different challenges persons have to encounter. We live in a world that is not just (I think from your view everybody has one life with its respective preconditions which often are not just, however I believe in multiple lives, so I think it equals out in the end, but if you consider just one life, the world is definitely not just), and people have to deal with that somehow. I just wonder how much you can do with understanding and encouragement of those dicpriviledged people (in the average!), given the years and years of negative experience before. I’d never give up though. Every single person is just too valuable to be given up.

    • Ah yes, I absolutely adored the ‘Lowest Difficulty Level’, such an excellent article. I really like your example of drawing a line between understanding and accepting – I think that’s a very important point. I also think understanding is the first step to being able to help people who are less privileged and try to give them the same opportunities as more privileged people – i.e., levelling the playing field.

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