My theory is that, for those of us living with privilege, that privilege is often invisible until it is pointed out to us.
I say this because, when I have heard people – and these are generally some combination of cisgendered/heterosexual/white people – balk about how privilege is not a thing, it generally seems to be because they equate privilege with a lack of hard work or struggle. They think that, because they have also struggled, that they are not privileged.
I know where my privileges lie. I’m white, can pass as straight because I am attracted to men as well as women (as well as those in between), and most of the time there’s no question that I’m female. I was assigned female at birth and aside from some rare occasions, I’m comfortable with that. Lately, I’ve even been playing up my femininity by wearing more dresses, putting effort into my hair, and wearing makeup. I’m not poor. If I lost my job, I have a decent savings to fall back on for a little while as well as an incredible support network.
That doesn’t I haven’t struggled or worked hard for what I have. I absolutely have. Nothing has been given to me that I didn’t earn. Being privileged doesn’t mean life is easy.
It means we don’t notice that it could be harder.
Because I have friends who are people of color – including several who I consider Family – I am aware that I will never have to worry about being followed around a department store. No one assumes I’m there to steal anything. I don’t worry about getting stopped for a traffic violation. At worst, I’m out a little money that I had expected to spend on something else. What I don’t worry about is harassment, assault, false accusations, or being killed in custody.
Last week, a friend who happens to be a woman of color, got stopped for speeding. Later that day, she posted this on Facebook – “Got stopped by the police. Still alive.” My heart broke for her because this is never, ever anything that should be noteworthy.
I recently made chocolate favors for a member of my best friend’s family who was getting married. One of the things I made was a 3-D wedding cake, complete with tiny cake topper of a bride and groom. My friend’s family is black, and I texted her sister to check if the woman marrying in was as well. She isn’t. Which meant I had to figure out how to paint the tiny faces on these figures to reflect the bride and groom’s different complexions.
I felt like I had been smacked in the face with my own privilege. If it had been a white couple, I wouldn’t have bothered at all. It would have been simple. Suddenly, I had to consider the options of how to make this topper so it was accurate. And I’m not trying to say this was a hardship in any way. Like at all. I was simply aware that the skills needed would be different. The few times I’ve made this piece, I haven’t had to think about it at all.
Because I know several trans* people, I’m aware that I have never had to worry about using public bathrooms. It has never occurred to me that someone might think I was in the wrong place when I go to a women’s restroom. Even at my most butch, it’s pretty obvious (hello boobs!) that I’m female. Similarly, I don’t worry about public dressing or changing rooms. Again, no one is going to question whether I’m in the “right” place or trying on the “right” clothes.
This is privilege. It is often invisible, covert, and subtle. If it is not brought to our attention, it would just as often go unnoticed.
For all these reasons, I consider the diversity in my friends group to be invaluable. Knowing the people I do has helped me empathize and given me perspectives I never would have known otherwise. Without them, I’d be going around thinking that everyone is like me, and assuming that everyone has the same opportunities and is treated similarly. Much as I hate these differences, I am grateful that I am more aware than I used to be, and that I can help bring awareness to others.