privi: private
lege: law

Privilege means, literally, "private law". Operating from a position of privilege means that the rules are applied differently - or are just not applied at all - for you.

There are many kinds of privilege. Some are earned, at least partially. Many are gained through luck or circumstance. Some are assumed even when not held.

The key, though, is that in all cases of privilege, the privileged person is acting from a position of strength or advantage over others who aren't privileged. The person with privilege doesn't have to be doing this deliberately or maliciously, or even be aware that s/he is doing it at all; often, one advantage of privilege is being unaware that a state of privilege even exists: those who have privilege may not be aware of it, while those who do not have it generally don't have a choice but to be aware of it. Furthermore, exercising a privilege generally (though not always) involves detriment to someone not privileged.

There are many privileges that are granted through general culture, so something that provides privilege in one culture may not (or may deny it) in another.

An example of a privilege that most people wouldn't think about: my parents are both great at finances, and have taught me from a young age about them. That's a privilege - it's an advantage most kids don't have. I didn't "earn" it in any way, and in this case my having it doesn't necessarily detract from others. But the knowledge I have gained because of my parents' fiscal ability is something that most of the people I know don't have.

An example of a privilege that is easy to spot is that I'm male. Being a male, even (or especially) in modern US culture, provides a plethora of advantages that most men aren't really aware of. We all know about things like wage differences, but even things like "not having to be vigilant about rape prevention" are privileges that men have and women don't.

An example of a privilege I lack is that I'm not straight. This goes far beyond issues like same-sex marriage and discrimination at work: the assumption of heterosexuality is so prevalent in culture that there is quite often a feeling that I have to hide my sexuality in everyday conversation or make other people angry/upset/flustered. Straight people don't have that stress: a straight man talking about his wife/lover/girlfriend does not cause any kind of disruption, but a gay man talking about his boyfriend/husband or a lesbian talking about her girlfriend/wife does. Thus, straight individuals are operating from a position of privilege.

We often can't avoid privilege - I can't stop being a guy, or at least not in ways that anyone would find reasonable, and I can't change who my parents are - but we can do our best to make sure that, in the exercising of privilege, we do not hurt or disadvantage others who are not privileged. This is often easier done that it seems, but first we have to be aware of the advantages we have that others lack. Also, we have to realize that, sometimes, levelling the field again isn't enough: to counteract privilege we, the privileged, must sometimes go out of our way to actively disadvantage ourselves in order to help someone who is unprivileged - especially if that privilege is indemic to culture and widespread.


Anonymous said...

Hi - I like your thoughts. I followed you over here from "Secrets of an All American". You mentioned that matter of climbing and reaching a place where you can't climb, and looking down, being afraid to fall, etc." I am a professional who was loosing touch with the "boys", so I stumbled upon this blogging system and began reading. These blogs have returned me to myself when, not so long ago, I left college and started to work. I was involved in reading "College Guy in Virginia...." and he stopped after graduating. This was disappointing to me, but I have come to realize that the guys that write actually have a need to express themselves based upon some internal state of balances, and when that internal state changes they simply die on the spot. When I say that I wish to know how the young male gay person thinks I must admit that I am gay and reasonably young after seven years of college. In school I would not dare declare myself as gay for to do so would be instant death. But my friends, and I had many, knew my gender choice, including my family, so no problem. But aging begins as you approach 30 and the robust, hilarious, testosterone charge of you youth begins to fade. It's enough about me, now I am going to read about you. Thanks for blogging - Norm

Austin said...

Hey Norm,

Well, first off, welcome.

I have to say, I think this blog may be less what you're looking for; "Out Not Up" is less about me and more about the world: different ways of seeing or understanding what many people take for granted as the way things are.

I don't generally deal with gay topics or my personal life here; that's for a different blog (and is usually pretty boring :P).

You're more than welcome to stick around, of course, as well as hit up my other home if you like.