My theory about the “privilege” stuff, when I hear someone complain about “being made to feel guilty” about whatever, is this: no one feels guilty about things they aren’t guilty of.
I’m a white woman, over-educated, and I grew up in a pretty well-off environment. Some of my ancestors committed horrific crimes against the original inhabitants of this country. Some of my relatives have said and done rude and nasty things to people who are poor or hail from non-English-speaking countries, out of arrogance and bias.
Do I feel guilty? Nope. I didn’t do those things.
Determined to not ever support in even the tiniest of ways those kinds of behaviors again? Indubitably.
Resolved to notice if I am on the brink of repeating those acts? Hell, yes.
But guilt? Not one smidgen.
And that’s all anyone is asking of anyone else, when they remind you to “Check your privilege”.
Okay, maybe that’s not all people are asking you to do.
In addition to just understanding that bad stuff has been done, “checking your privilege” is a kind of shorthand plea to listen to what is being said, instead of rushing in all hashtaggy-notallmen/white people/rich folks, and derailing the conversation to explain how you aren’t “privileged” because your parents didn’t have everything, or you didn’t get a scholarship to a place where a black person did, or how you ate ramen noodles for three months once because you worked at MacDonalds.
It’s grasping that it isn’t about You in the personal sense, but about how some of the attributes you were born with have left you off the hook on some intrinsic points. That the playing field is just not level.
I can’t relate to racial discrimination just because one time I lost out on a job to a woman from Pakistan. I was never bullied about sexuality in school, because my genitalia matches my identity. I don’t know what it would feel like to be terrified of a cop car passing by, because I have never felt like a target of police indifference, much less police brutality (well, not since the ’60s, anyway). I cannot speak to it, and so…
I shut the hell up and hear the words and resolve, in my heart, to support people who actually have those experiences and to speak out against them.
It isn’t so much to ask.