Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A lesson on power and privilege

Illustration from BKNation.org

Every now and then I’m forced to step away from my writing and reflect on comments made by readers.  I rarely respond to what people write.  It’s a policy I implemented years ago to allow readers to go at it without my intrusion.  That doesn’t mean I’m not reading.  I do.  I laugh, sometimes I cry, and there are days I take a few deep breaths before screaming – y’all don’t get it.

My last blog about white privilege is an example of my desire to yell at readers.  To their credit, the confusion may be the fault of the author – that would be me – due to the introduction of conceptions that require a more profound explanation. 

So, let’s go to class on the meaning of privilege.  Take notes.  Be patient, and prepare to apply the teaching as you seek to embrace diversity.

To begin, privilege is not a condition of selection.  It is not limited to philosophy or political position.  Privilege is not something you can remove with effort.  It comes with being you.  As much as you regret having to claim your privilege, it comes with being born with, or acculturated within an institution of privilege.

White privilege is given at birth.  It opens doors, extends benefits and assigns merit for no other reason than the advantage of being born that way. You can’t denounce white privilege.  Association with radical positions and disassociation with extreme positions doesn’t lead to the forfeiture of privilege.  It comes with being born white, and your life is both measured and rewarded based on that privilege.

Got that? On to point two.

There are numerous forms of privilege. Some are physiological while others depend on the environment of the moment.  There is gender privilege, age privilege and heterosexual privilege.  Each weighs heavy on the way people are affirmed or marginalized in their pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Privilege extends to attraction, mental well-being, and the lack of privilege shows up for those with mental illness and disabilities.

Privilege can exist among those accustomed to unfair treatment.  There’s black privilege when the majority in the room are black.  When that shows up, privilege isn’t about perception within a broader context, but how being the majority affords advantages that others miss.  My black privilege shows up within the context of worship in a predominately black church.  My black male privilege supports my personal agenda when a seek leadership within a black church.  My black, male, heterosexual privilege grants me power, influence and authority if I promote an anti-gay agenda within the black church.

Privilege is used to subjugate others.  This often shows up as an unconscious action.  The benefits associated with privilege are extended lacking perception.  Privilege doesn’t require participation. Advancement associated with privilege is laden in a myriad of historical and cultural actualities. Unwrapping how privilege impacts the ability to maneuver through systems is critical in advancing diversity.

Owning ones privilege is decisive in releasing the power that comes with privilege.  Personally, my list of privilege is vast.  Some of the things on my list have to be filtered through the context of a particular setting.  I hold education privilege as a person with graduate degrees.  Although my position of privilege exists within a broad community context, my lack of race privilege limits my ability to utilize the normative power associated with such privilege. My lack of normative advancement, comparative to those with white privilege, is construed as supreme privilege when juxtaposed within the context of black culture.

There is power that comes with privilege.  This is a truth that can’t be surmounted by simple will or association with groups that confront the advantages of privilege.  My willingness to listen to and embrace feminist and womanist ideology isn’t enough to counteract the advantage of my male privilege.  My being an advocate of LBGTQ rights isn’t enough to undo the advantages of my heterosexual privilege. 

The power that comes with my privilege requires ongoing introspection related to how I function as a person holding advantages.  Although privilege is something often given without demand, how I function with that privilege may limit the progression of others.  I’m constantly examining ways in which I use my privileges to hinder others.

Many would rather assume they hold no privilege.  Conceding the ownership of privilege is difficult when one considers it a function of will.  It is challenging for some to consider their advantages due to how history shows up as a reminder of ongoing negation.

All of us hold privilege. For some, there is power that comes with that privilege.

Now that we have that out of the way, take a look at your own privilege.

Class dismissed.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Professor Kenney,

    If this was only widely accepted and understood, we would have a different world instantaneously. Now the implementation of widespread education on this, would be a worthy endeavor. Bravo for sharing this knowledge, Carl.