Now can we please stop asking that question and start figuring out what to do about it?
“But I don’t see it…”
IT IS THERE.
“But it’s invisible to me.”
NO, YOU SEE ITS EFFECTS EVERY DAY.
IT IS THE LENS THROUGH WHICH YOU SEE THE WORLD.
“What do you mean?”
IT SURROUNDS YOU AND INSULATES YOU. YOU CAN’T SEE IT BECAUSE IT COLORS LITERALLY EVERYTHING YOU SEE.
YOU CAN’T SEE IT BECAUSE YOU CAN’T SEE WITHOUT IT.
“But doesn’t everyone have a lens through which they see the world, and they’re all different?”
YES. THAT IS WHY YOU MUST TALK TO OTHERS AND ASK WHAT THEY SEE.
“But what if they insist that this privilege thing exists even though I can’t see it?”
THEN YOU MUST LOOK FOR EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN. IT IS THERE.
“Why are you telling me I’m a bad person? It’s not my fault I have this ‘privilege’ thing you’re talking about.”
YOU AREN’T A BAD PERSON FOR HAVING PRIVILEGE.
“… what? But you just said…”
WHEN YOU INSIST THAT PRIVILEGE DOESN’T EXIST, THAT’S BAD.
“… oh. But why?”
BECAUSE YOU PRETTY MUCH CAN’T INSIST THAT PRIVILEGE IS FAKE UNLESS YOU HAVE A TON OF PRIVILEGE.
Can we please stop with the specious arguments about whether privilege actually exists? Virtually everyone has some form of privilege. Some of us have a lot more of it than others. We need to be talking about how to put people on fairer footing, and that involves talking—and, yes, arguing—about what that looks like and how to get there.
And the thing is, if you’re arguing that privilege doesn’t exist, you’re pretty much shutting down a lot of other people’s lived experience that it’s real.
Privilege as lenses
To extend this metaphor a little, think of privilege as lenses that color light passing through them, tinting it rose.
If you have a bit of privilege, one corner of your world looks pink and beautiful, but the rest may be pretty drab and tough.
Maybe you get a little privilege from being educated, so the left edge of your vision is pink. You get different privilege from being raised in a society with democratic laws, so that turns the upper-right corner pink. You get a bunch of privilege from being male, and that turns the bottom third of your vision pink. At the end, you see the world through lenses that make it roughly 50% rose-colored, and the rest is the dingy reality.
But still, in these moments, you can look and notice that there are parts of your worldview that are rosy and parts that are not. The edges between those things denote the intersections of different kinds of privilege.
If you don’t see any edges, it’s either because you have so much privilege that everything is rosy, or so little that everything is grey.
People in the first category are pretty much the only ones arguing that privilege doesn’t exist.
So before you insist that we debate whether privilege exists, please ask yourself whether you can see any edges within your worldview, places where you get automatic advantages. If you can see edges, you don’t need to debate whether privilege exists.
And if you genuinely can’t see any unearned advantages that have helped you along the way, please give thanks for the tremendous luck that makes it possible for you to say that. Acknowledge how rare that is, and try to help pull some other folks up to your level.