(Un?)conscious Privilege

What a week, huh? Though the world has never had a single boring day, some weeks pass by without “major” events happening—or at least not that the media shares with us when there are more pressing matters like what Kim and Kanye are wearing.

But last week brought us some biggies.

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Affordable Care Act can indeed continue to provide subsidies to those in need. (I’m pretty sure that is why there’s the word “affordable” in the name, right??) Though the ACA is not a perfect solution, the fact that people who couldn’t previously get health insurance now can matters. Especially to those who are newly insured. I don’t think I’ll ever understand why people are fighting against the goal of universal health care…and millions of dollars have been wasted in the fight. What a complete shame.

Then there was SCOTUS’s ruling that makes same-sex marriage a right nationwide. To me, this was a no-brainer, though I know some vehemently disagree. I just don’t see how giving others the right to marry is “the unraveling of society,” as it’s been said. It reminds me of when I’m with someone who is aggravated that other people are speaking a different language between themselves within our earshot. I’ll ask, “But aren’t they talking to each other?” Well, yes. “Then why do you need to know what they’re saying? Isn’t that eavesdropping?” Historically, this has not calmed the person’s irritation—only added me to it. But there really is no return volley that can further their point. It’s none of our business. Add to that that all people should be treated equally, and…scene.


via the Post and Courier
via the Post and Courier


Last week also included the funerals for the victims of the horrific shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine black people were murdered while attending a Bible study. The white gunman admitted that he did it to start a race war. As the mourning continues, is it possible for the conversation to continue, too? This isn’t a “post racial” society, as some claim. Not by a longshot. Is this heartbreaking tragedy something that will finally push us to look in the mirror and deal with reality? That all is not fine? I pray we are on the precipice of change on this front. Wouldn’t that be a powerful homage to the victims?

All three of these issues have a significant thing in common: privilege.

Who is privileged to be able to do what with their lives.

A powerful illustration of this is given in perhaps my all-time favorite Buzzfeed video (not that videos like “men wear leggings for the first time” aren’t critical to our cultural enrichment…)

Too often people who benefit from various privileges don’t understand that they do, and they have no idea what it would be like to be in the back row.

Griping about the “theys” without bothering to see what it might be like to be a “they.”

Griping about how “they” use the ER for non-emergency needs without understanding for a moment what it must be like to know your child is ill and not be able to see a pediatrician because you can’t afford insurance and you sure as hell can’t afford to pay full price.

Griping about how “they” are going to ruin marriage, neglecting to account for the current divorce rate of 50% (wait…isn’t that a sin?) without understanding for a moment what it must be like to be restricted from being with the love of your life on his or her deathbed because you’re not “family”…or to simply be treated like everyone and anyone else who loves.


the greatest of these is love-2


Griping about how “they” should understand that “racism is a thing of the past,” or “they should just try harder”…without understanding for a moment what it must be like to be stopped by a police officer because you’re driving a “nice” car in a “nice” neighborhood, and…can I see your license and registration, please? Or what it’s like to walk into a store and be followed around in suspicion even though you’ve done nothing to invite it.

Oh, how the world changes when you replace they with I and me. When you understand what life is like in the back row, where you have further to throw and your view may be obstructed. We need to open our eyes and see that the playing field is not equal. We do not all have the same shot.

Here are some privileges of mine…

I was born in a wealthy, democratic country with many rights and freedoms.
I am white.
My family of origin was not poor.
My schools were academically strong.
I am able-bodied.

Notice I had nothing to do with them—I didn’t have to earn a single one. But I benefited from all of them.

Recognizing the privileges that exist in our society and understanding how they manifest themselves in various ways is the beginning of looking truthfully at our world…and working toward resolving some painful injustices.

After a week like this, it makes me wonder…what might next week bring?


All photos are my own or used with attribution.
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6 thoughts on “(Un?)conscious Privilege

  1. Gosh … as always Lisa … your compelling reflections resonate clear down to the deepest part of my soul. Thank you for using your wisdom and voice to speak such important words about privilege. I’ve always contended that privilege and power is like oxygen. You don’t even notice it is there until you don’t have it!! Thank you for pointing out how difficult it can be to see places were the air is thin…

  2. Fantastic. I very much agree with all your points, and find it really interesting how you tied these events to privilege. I have had that discussion with many friends, and several disagree, saying things like, ” I have worked hard to get where I am” or ” when Obama said, you didn’t build that, it made me so angry”, while I tried to express that we are all beneficiaries of our upbringing, socioeconomic status, and the random luck of being born in the USA. THANK YOU so much for your beautiful expression.

    1. Thank you, Laura! I’m so glad you found my post and liked it! Yes, as it sounds like you well know, your friends may have worked hard to get where they are (like most of us do!) but that doesn’t negate any privilege–at whatever level–that they were born into. It’s just a matter of seeing it for what it is and striving to help one another. Again–thanks for your kind words!

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