This week on our AMPLIFY series, we’ll be focusing on privilege. Privilege pertains to everyone, no matter what background, upbringing, age, job, or lifestyle you have, there’s some way you benefit from privilege. However in our society, privilege for the majority benefits certain people of particular backgrounds such as Caucasian individuals or “white passing” individuals a lot more than those of darker skin color. There are plenty of levels of how we benefit from privilege, for example Womxn* of Colour’s body hair will usually be significantly darker, thicker, and coarser, than that of white womxn. There is a privilege within that, based around the leniency, and benefits that white people receive around body hair (and grooming, appearance, and efforts – but that will be discussed below.) It pertains to theirs usually being non-existent at a quick glance, or inadvertently “not being an issue” when it comes to dating, photo shoots, or grooming. Plenty of trauma, hardships, and triggering memories from taunting teenage years resurface for Womxn of Colour when these privileges are alive and thriving within the present day.
On another scale, privilege is thriving within the workplace in terms of how different individuals are treated before they get a job, whilst they’re within the job, and how they get let go / leave. All too often we see Black individuals at a significantly larger disadvantage within systemic norms, specifically around workplace politics, the justice system, and day to day treatment. These systemic norms have been thriving for centuries, and the privileges that white counterparts receive just by being white are all too deep rooted within generations of allowing these privileges to pass on.
Privilege in its most obvious sense can be seen when Charleston shooter Dylann Roof in 2015 was escorted to Burger King to get a burger upon his arrest. Absolutely zero Black individuals who were arrested would ever be given the chance to go to a fast food spot to get a burger as they’re being arrested. The action of Black people being arrested before even being properly identified for a particular crime, happens quicker than common decency let alone being allowed to go to a fast food spot first.
Below are some ways in which we can all acknowledge our privilege, and actively use it for the better.
- Acknowledge your privilege, where it is strongest, where it comes from, and do look into your history around privilege. How does your background affect your privilege? How did your upbringing contribute to your privilege? Do you benefit from “pretty privilege?” (Pretty privilege is the privilege of being pretty in the realm of pertaining to traditional beauty standards – usually being white, slender, and cisgender.) Whilst society has begun stepping away from these norms and standards, there are still levels in which pretty privilege is thriving.
- For example, within the LGBTQI+ community, people who identify as transgender often are labelled as whether they’re “passing” or not. Passing is a term to signify if someone can pass as the identity they’re choosing to present as, most typically pertaining to the feminine realm. Again, the “goal” to achieve prettiness is all too prevalent, in all realms of societal structures, and community structures, and showcases how prettiness can be used as a social currency. Pretty privilege is relevant here in that those who can pass for a more “feminine” appearing womxn or are accepted in the traditional realms of beauty, have more privileges in terms of safety, standard of living, and all around benefits than those who don’t. However, it should be noted that by all means, there are levels to all this, and each individual’s story and how privilege affects them, varies.
- Map out areas in your life where privilege is affecting you or others around you – positively and negatively. For example, if you’re a lighter skinned model and you’re on set with a darker skinned model who’s been asked to remove their body hair in a disrespectful or rude way, perhaps step up and state you’d like to as well. Even if you perhaps don’t even have body hair at the moment, taking up the time of others, showcasing the physical trauma that the removal of hair can bring to the skin, and sheer allyship within stepping up like that, can really make people rethink the way they approach arenas like this.
- Another arena in which you can check your privilege and use it counterintuitively is within the workplace in terms of bringing forth great employees of colour who may not be heard like their white counterparts are. Likewise, being vocal around workplace injustice no matter how small or large of an issue should be an action we all take seriously. Using our voices to collectively raise an issue and raise support for an employee being treated less than within the workplace is incredibly important.
- Much of today’s privilege also comes online via social media. It’s extremely important to check how one uses their platform during times of injustice, but more importantly, beyond these times. As injustice doesn’t stop just because it stops getting reported about on the news, injustice doesn’t vanish because we don’t hear the names of those killed anymore and injustice doesn’t go away when the mass majority on Instagram stop posting. So – when the hysteria does quiet down, it’s important influencers use their privilege to continue posting useful resources, petitions, donation links, and news.
- Privilege also comes in the form of appearance, and general effort within the workplace. Challenge the below “norms” if they are thriving within your workplace. Recently a lot of stories on Instagram have been surrounding Google searches pertaining to “professional hairstyles” and “unprofessional hairstyles.” As guessed, the professional hairstyles “curated” are those from white backgrounds and Asian backgrounds, and those with unprofessional hairstyles were those from Black backgrounds. Privilege comes heavily when white individuals are able to come to work with a “messy top knot bun” or “bedhead hair” (as per so many YouTube tutorials are striving to teach people how to achieve that.) While Black individuals have to wear weaves to assimilate to Western white beauty standards to 1) avoid hate pertaining to their natural hair, and 2) to avoid having their appearance be taunted and called unprofessional within the workplace. The question as to why Black people wear weaves that “look” like white hair, but white people can’t wear dreads or braids, again, pertains back to privilege and how one party can sport a hairstyle for fun without any connection to having to wear it for protection, avoidance of hate, or avoidance of being made a spectacle. Similar to this, effort within the workplace & how we as individuals are accepted / praised in society is hugely disproportionate amongst communities. White communities are largely able to do the absolute bare minimum and Black communities along with other communities of colour have to exert themselves 10x over to reach even part of that bare minimum effort their white counterparts are giving. The role of gender likewise plays a part around effort. There is a certain privilege men have – for example on talk shows, where they can come on in a tattered t-shirt and jeans, and scruffy hair, but womxn are expected to “look presentable” by putting make up on and wearing an extravagant gown etc.
- Lastly, I want to touch on white fragility as a form of privilege. Plenty of white folx* will be offended by me simply calling them white throughout this article. The biggest form of privilege is being able to be solely offended around these areas, and likewise being able to simply speak on topics, injustices, and experiences, without having to experience said experience. Feeling uncomfortable around these topics will happen, however the work has to be done, the acknowledgement has to be done, and the conversation has to be had. As many people have said, it’s not necessarily white people against black people but more so us against racism. And racism thrives through sub topics such as privilege.
Beyond challenging privilege in itself, and seeking to use our privilege positively, there has to be acknowledgement of privilege within being able to challenge privilege without consequences. Consequences in the sense of not being believed, being called angry or dramatic, or all too commonly being arrested for speaking out.
Privilege comes in the smallest, and largest arenas of our lives. Janaya ‘Future’ Khan brought up a great point in that “privilege isn’t about what you’ve gone through; it’s about what you haven’t had to go through.” All our lives have tribulations, and hardships, and we’re not taking any of that away – however privilege based on skin colour, monetary value, sexuality, background, job, status within society, and who we know, all contribute to our ease within daily life, and how our voices are heard.
*these terms are spelt different to traditional societal spelling norms, to be inclusive of transgender individuals, and individuals of colour.