Written by Morgan DeLisle
Edited by Steven Spear, Jr.
We say with outrage at the idea that we were born with all the opportunities in the world and have never had to put any effort in to get where we are. Cue the raised voices and angry fist-shaking. Trust me, I get that. And anyone that would dismiss a person’s work and experience because of their skin color or financial status is exactly who needs this talk, so don’t get too angry.
Admitting your privilege doesn’t mean relinquishing any pride you have in yourself. Even better, don’t fall into the trap of believing that the fact that you are privileged (maybe in many, many ways) excludes you from pain or hardships. Anyone who really gets the point of explaining privilege isn’t doing it to strip you of your humanity, trust me on that.
Another piece of Gay’s work that shook my iron grip on my denial of privilege was her explanation of admitting to privilege. She says
“To have privilege in one or more areas does not mean you are wholly privileged. Surrendering to the acceptance of privilege is difficult… What I remind myself, regularly, is this: the acknowledgement of my privilege is not a denial of the ways I have been and am marginalized, the ways I have suffered.”
I had never seen it in such an inclusive way. I had always experienced privilege as a weapon: people brought up my privilege when they didn’t want me to contribute to a conversation. Admittedly, some of those I didn’t have room to speak in, but more often it was an excuse to skip educating me to what I was missing in favor of agreement amongst a group. Instead, Gay presents privilege as something that we all have and something that accepts our personal narrative in full..
Narrative is going to continue to be a theme, so let me say that I believe learning to recognize our own narrative wholly, how to communicate it, and then how to integrate other’s into our own is key to grasping privilege and turning it into something valuable. When Roxane Gay says that privilege acknowledges the ways things have been better for us while leaving space for our pain and struggle, she is pointing to the ability to recognize varying, intricate parts of our narrative without severing any piece of ourselves.
When I was able to recognize that I have a certain set of privileges that come with being white or middle class or American, without discounting the struggles of being a woman, a student or a human in general, I found a freedom in the complexity of the story of myself that I could not find in denying my privilege or accepting it as it had been explained to me.
I found a freedom in seeing my story more fully, without having to ascribe shame to any part of it because privilege robbed me of accomplishment or difficulty.
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