Privilege for Absolute Beginners.

Authors note: I am writing this blog and trying to be considerate of as many people’s experiences as I can, but all the same, I do have privilege and there is some mention of problems I never have to deal with, such as being trans* or a person of color. If anything I said is offensive or out of line in ANY way, please call me out on it so I can fix it!

Sorry about the blog title–a warning, there will be NO David Bowie in this post. Sorry!

I want to talk about privilege. If you’ve delved into the social justice scene, especially on tumblr, the word privilege probably makes you cringe. I know, I know. I can’t blame you. All the fighting, all the arguing, all the bashing–does privilege exist, does it not, what counts as oppression, etc. etc. etc.. I feel like we’ve gotten away from what’s important, and so I thought I should make a post that’s way, way back to basics. For beginners. Pretending that no one’s ever heard of privilege so we can cut away all the nonsense.

Privilege is absolutely a real thing, and it absolutely does exist. The first problem with privilege is the word itself. It can be very off-putting. For me personally, before I started learning about social justice, privilege meant something very specific to me. Privilege was something that someone got that made them better than everyone else. Privilege was something that people are aware that they have. Privilege was something tangible, something that was handed to me. Privilege was something that can be given easily or taken away easily.

Well, none of those things are true in social justice context.  So I’m going to explain things that privilege IS so we can focus on that, instead of what it’s not.

So what is privilege? Simply put, privilege is “a special advantage, immunity, permission, right, or benefit granted to or enjoyed by an individual, class, or caste” and, “such an advantage, immunity, or right held as a prerogative of status or rank, and exercised to the exclusion or detriment of others.” More simply put, it’s something that people have that makes their lives easier than other people’s, whether they’re aware of it or not.

The number one thing I think is important to mention is that privilege is NOT a bad word, nor a bad thing to have. You are not wrong for having privilege, you’re not a bad person. It simply gets frustrating for people without the same privilege watch you take yours for granted. That’s a great place to start, actually!

Privilege is something most people take for granted.
One of the major points of privilege is that most people aren’t aware that they have it–that’s what makes most people so upset when they get called out on it. If you’ve lived your whole life a certain way, it’s only natural that it can fail to occur to you that not everyone has lived the same experiences you have, or that they can’t do things as easily. Here’s just a few examples of that.

  • If you’re white, you can be sure that if you get pulled over by a cop, it’s not because of your skin color. When you go to see a film or watch a TV show, you will feel comfortable because most of the people you see will be the same race as you.
  • If you’re male, you will not be accused of being a ‘whore’ or a slut’ if you sleep around. You are also able to interview for a job without being asked questions about whether you’re planning to start a family soon and if that will affect your ability to work.
  • If you’re cis, you will never be afraid to go into a bathroom marked with your gender. People will not use incorrect pronouns when talking to you or harass you for the way you dress.
  • If you’re thin, you will not be judged if you’re at a restaurant and choose to eat a steak instead of a salad. You can go to your doctor with a concern about your health and not have the doctor immediately blame it on your weight without running any tests or asking any questions.

If you have privilege, these are things you never even have to think of, so you tend to assume that no one else does either.  The first step in understanding privilege is recognizing your own. Evaluate the things you do day to day and try to understand why it would be harder for someone who’s a different skin color, a different religion, a different weight, disabled, etc. If you can walk into a restaurant without researching it first to see if there the booths are big enough to fit you, that’s a privilege. If you can go shopping without someone from the store following you around because your skin color makes you ‘suspicious’, that’s a privilege. It’s innocuous, but it’s important.

Privilege isn’t absolute.
Privilege is a bit abstract in this way. This is one of the things that naysayers cling to. You’ll see from time to time, “Well, I’M fat, and I’VE never had _______ experience!” or “I’ve never known any black people who’ve experienced racism!” This in itself is a privilege because people who say this are basing it on their own experiences, and their own experiences alone. It’s very important to realize that just because you haven’t had a specific experience, there are many, many people who have, and by not believing what they’re saying, you’re invalidating their personal experiences. This is definitely something to avoid! Privilege is relative and deeply personal, and one thing you don’t have the right to do is tell someone that their experience doesn’t matter. It’s also important not to judge the way an experience that you haven’t had affects someone else.

Privilege works on a sliding scale.
This one is especially relevant for thin privilege. The experience of a person who’s a size 16 is going to be extraordinarily different than a person who’s a size 32. Although both of these sizes are considered fat/plus size/what have you, you can ‘get away with’ a lot more if you’re a size 16. Lots of stores will still have clothes that’ll be able to fit you. Chances are you won’t have to think about buying two seats on an airplane. Movie theatre seats aren’t going to be too uncomfortable. However, if you’re a size 32, not only will you not be able to find anything to wear in a regular store, even most plus size stores don’t go up to your size. You will get stared at every time you leave your house. People will constantly talk about your health and your weight. The same idea applies in a situation with a person of color who’s light enough to ‘pass’ for white vs. someone with very dark skin.

Privilege is intersectional.
Intersectionality is super important when talking about privilege (I’m actually going to do a separate post on intersectionality because I think it’s one of the most important parts of any movement like feminism or fat acceptance.) Intersectionality is how different groups of oppressed/minorities meet, or intersect, (hence the name!) Example–a woman has less privilege than a man. A woman of color has less privilege than a white woman. Likewise, a disabled person has less privilege than an able-bodied person. And a fat disabled person has less privilege than a thin disabled person. In the case of a fat disabled person, many people will assume that they’re disabled because they’re fat, and judge them harshly for it.

I hope this has shed some light and made it at least a bit easier to understand what privilege entails. For handy reading, I’m linking to some various privilege checklists! I know every single blog post about privilege links to privilege checklists, but I’m going to add a disclaimer. It’s important to note that not every single point will apply to every single person. And even if you have privilege, chances are you’ll still be able to check off a few things on each list. As I said, privilege is not absolute, and these lists are NOT gospel, nor are they perfect.

If you have any thoughts, please feel free to share them in the comments!

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4 Responses to Privilege for Absolute Beginners.

  1. JG says:

    “Cis” being a problematic term aside…you’re completely ignoring that non-gender conforming people get harassed all the time. This is why the cis/trans dichotomy makes no sense. A butch lesbian will get harassed for not conforming to what society expects of women just like a man who prefers to wear makeup will get harassed for not conforming to what is expected of a man.

    • Adipose Activist says:

      hey there, thanks for commenting. I’m interested in what you have to say–by posting what I did, I didn’t even begin to go into every kind of oppression or privilege. There are tons of things I left out, and it ‘s not because I don’t care, it’s because if I tried to list every single way a person can have or lack privilege, or how they can be oppressed, I’d still be writing the post today! Your point is absolutely valid, and people who identify as a woman but doesn’t ‘dress like a woman’ will absolutely face discrimination for not conforming.

      That being said, I’ve never heard of cis being a problematic term, and I couldn’t find anything online that would tell me why it would be considered as such. Would you care to tell me why it’s problematic, and what I should be using instead? I’d very much appreciate it. Thank you!

      • JG says:

        It’s problematic because it doesn’t make sense. The definition of the word is that one’s gender matches one’s sex, but the fact of the matter is gender is a harmful social construct. No one is born with an innate gender. It’s something that’s forced upon us. Using the word cis ignores that.

  2. kittynh says:

    ALso where you are born is important. Indoor plumbing? Good medical care? Though I have to say my cousin is constantly asked, at least daily, “So, why haven’t you considered one of those surgeries to lose weight? I don’t see why you wouldn’t have surgery, I would if I were as fat as you are!” (I can’t know how that feels, but I can imagine).

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