A good friend and ally in the fight against racism recently posted this guide on privilege on the TS message board- and I want to share some of the points here for today's (almost too late!) installment for IBARW.
It all starts with one simple self-realization: you are privileged. Chances are, your reading that has made you feel defensive. While it’s a perfectly natural, and common, reaction, don’t let it get in your way of actually thinking about what the statement means. What you need to realize is that we all have privilege to some degree: white privilege, male privilege, heterosexual privilege, etc. The hardest thing is to do is to get over your instinct to fight and say, “But I’m not like that!” If you can do it, you’ve completed the first step towards being a nice guy in reality rather than words.
I went through this when I came to the realization of my own privilege. It's like swallowing something bitter- getting a dose of reality. But then you realize you've taken a huge step just by having the realization. Remember, you are not bad for being privileged- but:
You don’t have any control over the privilege you were given, and we get that. It’s important for you to get that, and get that we aren’t saying that, and then realize what that means when combined with your privilege to pretend that you aren’t privileged. Confused? Simply put: you aren’t bad for having privilege, but not being able to give up your privilege is not a ‘get out of jail free’ card for bad behaviour. So, what, then, to do about it? Well, finding a balance between accepting your privilege and fighting against it is not easy. I still struggle with it on a daily basis. But, one way to start is to listen to and take feedback from minority groups. They are a good judge of how your actions come across to them. Not everyone’s opinions will be the same, but eventually you’ll come out with some semblance of balance that works for you and those around you.
This is key- I know I'm not a bad person because I am white. No one is automatically a bad person because of their privilege. We have no control over that. We do however, have control over all of our other actions (or more importantly, non-action) in regards to said privilege.
This one gets me in trouble all the time:
Privilege is perpetuated in part by the silence of people when one of their own group does something questionable. This can be an inappropriate joke, or someone admitting that they committed a crime against a minority (eg. rape), etc. We’re conditioned to not say anything, especially if we’ll be the lone voice of dissent among a peer group, but when you tell the offender that hir behaviour is not cool, you may be pleasantly surprised by the group’s response. Or you may be ridiculed. I’ve had both happen to me, and with certain groups (like my family), I try to pick and choose my battles. With others (like most of my friends), I’ll risk losing them rather than keeping friends with questionable values. It won’t always work, and you have to find your own balance, but just saying something, or even backing up another dissenter, can go a long way to improving a situation. And, please remember, while it’s a good thing for you to be engaging in this, you shouldn’t expect to be rewarded by minorities for your efforts; oppression may be a new experience for you, but it’s something we live with every day of our lives.
Most people I have encountered to talk about race, are happy with what I say to a point. When I tell them they might be a little insensitive about something, I always seem to get the "reverse racism" card played back at me. You know, I'm racist against white people, or I hate men, or whatever. But I know I can't be quiet, the topic of privilege and understanding it is too important. My skin has certainly thickened, though. :-)
Oh there is tons more at the page, I encourage all of you who read here to take the time and learn. Also some great links to even more information. I will leave you with the last bit of advice from the page:
But if you feel the burning desire to leap to your own defense and declare, “I’m not the problem!” then you just might be. The facts are, people who have followed the steps I’ve outlined will most likely not be the problem. If they are the problem, they accept that and will be working on a way to be less of the problem. If they’re not the problem, then they feel no need to protest the critique by saying that since they aren’t the problem, then the poinit is obviously invalid. So, whenever you feel an urge to defend yourself against a criticism about your privileged group, think about why you feel that way. Chances are, the more aware of your privilege you are, the more you’ll see it as a knee-jerk reaction about having your privilege challenged (even if you don’t, in fact, engage in the behaviour being ranted against).