Privilege – What It Is And How Do You Know

Privilege, what is it?  Only when you have dark can you know light.  Only when you have sadness can you bathe in joy.  Only through liberation could one feel the agony of incarceration.  The polar opposite allows you to know one from the other.  When all one has ever known is privilege they may not even know they are privileged.  This is very much the case for a lot, not all, but most privileged people.Privilege is getting to use any bathroom you want. Privilege is getting to stroll through a mall without being followed. Privilege is getting opportunities you may or may not recognize minorities don’t get……that’s privilege. Privilege is getting an opportunity and you may not even recognize as an opportunity, but a right perhaps?Privilege is getting promoted when you might not have worked as hard as the minority next to you.  Privilege is getting a raise when your black or brown colleague may be outperforming you.  The numbers offer evidence of what some may allege are simply “allegations”. Privilege is when you walk up to a crowded bar and are served before the group of Indian women who’ve been patiently waiting at the bar before you to quell and quench their thirst.  They are just as thirsty as you, but they get to wait.I was in a stuffy bar in Mendocino when I felt for the millionth time and air of white stuffiness around me.  I shared with my white friend I was getting a bad vibe after some serious stare downs and after a long wait at the bar from the white bartender.  My white friend, love her dearly said, “Sue I don’t feel it.  I didn’t even realize.”  I respond, “Why would you?”  A poignant question that lead us into an evening of profound and eye opening conversation.  I love her even more for it and she has far more greater empathy for my plight.  On our way home at the Drive Through Tree park – I went in to make a purchase and had another unfortunate experience.  They are generally not this frequent, but geography and location play a heavy hand.  That part of the state is just not as diverse.  Beautiful and majestic, but lacking in the beautiful diversity of the melting pot I call home, i.e., bay area.  I caused no fuss, but was sad at the injustice and unfairness.  I’m a happy and positive person and generally spread cheer.  I love people and appreciate all human interaction, even the unpleasant exchanges.  I appreciate those the most because they’ve allowed the most growth.  I forgave the checker, dawned my new Drive Through Tree park hat and we continued making our way up Highway 1. Hundreds more of these to share, I’d rather not, but just giving reference here.  I’m lucky still I’m not a black man.  He’s much further down the chain than I.  For his plight I have immense empathy, but only through my own experiences of disheartening discrimination can I truly feel his unfair circumstance.  I cannot deny or talk it away.  I cannot get defensive and pretend it’s not real.  I am certain his experience is real.  Who am I to take away from anyone’s experience?  That’s what we should ask ourselves next time we want to discredit someone’s story.Privilege is going to court for a drug offense and getting probation when your minority counter part gets 5 years.  Privilege is being acquitted when your minority counterpart is wrongfully accused.  Privilege appears in so many forms and so many forums, far too many to break down here, but worth the simple mention I suppose.However when it’s all you know you may not even realize you’re privileged. Sad, but very true. The privileged, not all, but many of them don’t even realize they are privileged. It’s the every day dealings  one may not realize are actually privileges in relation to the experiences of a minority’s every day dealings. It’s only when you are a minority and experience discrimination on a regular basis and speak to your white friends who care and are open to listening that you are able to have clear perspective, all of us, minorities and whites. When we listen we learn and when we learn we evolve.

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Sue Dhillon is an Indian American writer, journalist, and trainer.

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