Words by Melissa Nava
Edited by Isabel Kho
Art by Samantha Evangelista
“Privilege makes a particular individual’s struggles easier to overcome than another’s normally would. It could take shape in simple day-to-day activities, such as going to the grocery and buying goods that you can afford, without having to worry about being discriminated against because of your race, or not having to worry about being catered to if you have a disability (physical, mental, etc.).”
In societies with more conservative cultures, there will often be people that will reserve the power to certain groups. The choice of who holds the power is normally determined by someone’s features – that is, if they are deemed acceptable and conforming to their culture’s standards.
Whether it be where someone comes from, their skin color, socioeconomic class, or gender – any of these aspects may affect an individual’s access to certain resources. This is why it comes as no surprise when more dominant groups thrive in certain cultures, and these particular groups bear little to no trouble accessing these advantages – access to education, mental health benefits, medical services, among many others. This is an entirely different perspective when compared to less advantaged communities – where citizens are scouring the streets, countless people become ill, there is an increase in robberies due to poverty and starvation, children and elderly try to make a living instead of studying or staying at home, among many other instances are common and left unchecked. Not many are asked to reflect on why these things happen. Not a lot of people are asked to reflect on their privileged status (NASP, 2016).
Privilege is a concept that is difficult to grasp. When it’s brought up, there is an underlying feeling of discomfort; you begin thinking of counterarguments to oppose the fact that you have benefitted from privilege. It might seem like acknowledging your privilege invalidates your struggles, making you feel as though you have not worked hard enough to earn what you have achieved.
To help our readers get a better grasp on the concept, privilege is better defined by author Sian Ferguson as “a set of unearned benefits given to a specific group of people who belong to certain identity groups – such as ability, class, gender, language, race, religion, sexual orientation, geographical location, to name a few”. Having privilege does not necessarily mean that you have not struggled in life, contrary to popular belief. However, your own struggles cannot be attributed to the struggles of others against oppression when their own identity is being nitpicked.
Privilege makes a particular individual’s struggles easier to overcome than another’s normally would. It could take shape in simple day-to-day activities, such as going to the grocery and buying goods that you can afford, without having to worry about being discriminated against because of your race, or not having to worry about being catered to if you have a disability (physical, mental, etc.). In other words, privilege holds so much of a figurative type of power, and because of this, “under the same set of circumstances you’re in, life would be harder without your privilege” (Ferguson, “Everyday Feminism”).
The usual way people go about privilege is by solely blaming those who benefit from it. However, you may also be part of both the privileged and oppressed groups. For example, someone who is white may benefit from white privilege, but if he or she has a disability, it won’t hinder them from being discriminated against. This can somewhat be connected to the concept of oppression. Privilege is oppressive when it benefits some, at the expense of inhibiting and disenfranchising the minorities. We must take the time to recognize and acknowledge our privilege before going over the oppressive system that we unconsciously perpetuate.
As previously mentioned, talking about privilege often feels like an insult and invalidation to one’s struggle, which is probably why people subconsciously avoid the topic. However, we must acknowledge that privilege exists. As authors Wildman and Davis once said, “the lives we lead affect what we can see and hear in the world around us.” With that being said, an important step to understanding the concept of privilege is to examine our own experience.
So when you’re pondering on the topic of your privilege, try to evaluate yourself and ask yourself these questions: How are you privileged in society in relation to certain aspects of your identity? Are you from a lower social class? Do you have a mental illness or a learning disability? Are you a person of color? Are you gender non-conforming? These aspects could contribute to one’s additional obstacles in life, as society impedes those who are classified under these social groups. Engage in conversation with people of varying backgrounds. It will take a great deal of empathy, commitment, and pensive exercise to alleviate this old mindset from our systems, but leaving these types of questions unasked will only worsen injustice among individuals, and widen the gap between social classes.
“In your journey of trying to make a change for the better, I would like to encourage readers to keep this in mind: the privileged are not saviors of the minorities . . . Nonetheless, our participation is essential in raising awareness for them, but we must only act as their leverage, to amplify their voices.”
Once you’ve gotten used to practicing constant reflection, you may begin to make an outward change. I personally suggest that you use resources that may be available to you, start researching and educating yourself on privilege. Several articles and journals cover broad and in-depth explanations about privilege. It may seem overwhelming, but it will introduce you to new perspectives that may help you further understand the topic and pierce it from its roots.
Once you’ve grasped the concept, continuously be conscious of your own actions, you may also take the initiative to sign up for organizations with more hands-on activities, to be able to contribute to disenfranchised communities. Numerous organizations are searching for members and volunteers, but be sure they share the same values and goals as you do. One may even take advantage of the technology we have at present; there are plenty of various online petitions on social, environmental, and political issues that call for support for minority groups are being plastered all over the internet.
In your journey of trying to make a change for the better, I would like to encourage readers to keep this in mind: the privileged are not saviors of the minorities. Some minority groups have insufficient resources, but we may be able to help them as the beneficiaries of society; however, we must not let our positionality interfere with the plans we’ve come up with together. They are capable of speaking for their community – it may only be due to oppression and discrimination that they are unable to as of now. Nonetheless, our participation is essential in raising awareness for them, but we must only act as their leverage, to amplify their voices.
I once perceived the world to be perfect until I learned from my parents, educators, a few select friends, colleagues, as well as some articles on the internet that not everyone is lucky to be born with the privilege that others have. Being in a closed-off environment where everything is going seemingly well gives a person less room for doubt. But once you get out of that trance, you are responsible for the succeeding actions you take. The system that is established upon us is one that perpetuates the notion of oppressing people with the use of privilege, limiting it to certain individuals. Although this is a truth in our society, it’s time that we have insightful and reflective discussions about the privilege that we have, which may help us understand why it happens, and what we could do to gradually remove this from our system.
Try to go against living in a system of unchecked privilege. If we properly navigate the process of learning to accept this reality and challenging the discriminatory systems that have been established, we’ll be lifting the weight of having this notion off of people’s shoulders by conducting conversations about it. Although we don’t control what reality we’re born into, living comfortably in ignorance is not right. Being unaware and out of touch with everything going on around us won’t make these instances disappear. Complacency won’t make the coronavirus and the social injustices go away; acknowledgment and appropriate action will. And so even if I have to give up the perfect world I envisioned as a child, I must not neglect my duty as a citizen of my country – to acknowledge what’s happening and to try and bring awareness to it.
“Complacency won’t make the coronavirus and the social injustices go away; acknowledgment and appropriate action will. And so even if I have to give up the perfect world I envisioned as a child, I must not neglect my duty as a citizen of my country – to acknowledge what’s happening and to try and bring awareness to it.”
There’s no denying that I’m still learning and ridding myself of my old habits and likely dangerous mindsets, but it’s a start, and it will help initiate progress towards a better and more inclusive tomorrow. It will take time, but even if understanding these issues and theories (even those that don’t directly apply to you) is a rocky path, if it will aid me in contributing to the betterment of our systems and in other people’s situations then it’s definitely worth doing.
Melissa lives in Metro Manila, Philippines, and is currently a Sensereporter for Maksense Asia. Her role focuses on penning down statements that hold meaning and substance that engage readers with the truth for a positive social impact. She hopes to bring about change even in the littlest ways because when accumulated, it will make a huge difference. Melissa feels particularly passionate about inclusive health care, gender equality, and press freedom.
Issa resides in San Juan, Philippines and is currently a sensereporter for Makesense Asia. Her role is to contribute content on social impact across Asia. Issa feels particularly passionate about social justice, and equality for all types of individuals.
Sammy is an incoming college freshman with a heart for service, ready to contribute to the betterment of society using her God given talents. She advocates mainly for the environment. When she’s not doing this you can normally find her watching another kdrama or gushing over BTS.