Privilege is not something that everyone in our society receives, and recognizing this imbalance is essential to correcting the injustice in our nation. It’s not an action that deserves reward or recognition. It’s a process that one, including myself, has to go through in order to work towards being a decent human being.
By society’s standards, I am privileged. That is a fact. I am half white and half Hispanic; I grew up in a middle class family and never had to worry about my skin color or accent or last name or culture defining who am I because I was primarily raised white. I grew up with the advantages that being white in our society gives you and that means I have to work to keep my privilege in check, to keep in mind that just because an issue does not affect me does not mean that it does not others. This action is not something that deserves any form of praise whatsoever; it is simply part of being a decent human being. I have to reevaluate my perspective on issues to factor into concerns I personally never had to face, to remember that not everyone had the privileges of which I often took advantage. I have to work to remember that while I was not blatantly raised with racist thoughts in mind, I was raised in a society that ingrains racism into our minds from a young age because it maximizes the benefits of privilege.
What does this maximization mean? It means that as someone who is privileged in a system with racist foundations, I benefit from the system. Living in a society founded on the tenets of capitalism means that I’m also taught to take advantage of any opportunity or benefit I can, including this system. If I can make it far in this system, why look to change it? That’s the root of the problem. It is then beneficial for me to be ignorant since our society is a game based on the survival of the fittest, the ones with the most privilege.
This ingrained ignorance does not necessarily mean I’m inherently a bad person, and it does not mean I am a victim who was slighted by society. It means I can unintentionally be an ignorant person. I can be ignorant of my actions and thoughts and how they affect the people around me who do have to deal with these issues. I can be ignorant of the downfalls and problems with our society. I can be ignorant of someone’s situation and say something that causes them to snap. Not being ignorant is a learning and unlearning process that takes time. It doesn’t excuse my ignorance in any way, shape, or form; it just means I have to work harder. I have to step out of the bubble my privilege forms around me and see how the view looks from outside my bubble. I have to work to not become defensive when someone points out my privilege in anger. Because not being in the bubble of privilege and seeing how it excludes you can be angering and stressful. And so when I do unintentionally offend someone and cause a reaction, I have to work to remember that that person’s anger isn’t directly aimed at me per say: it’s at the society that led me to be ignorant. That person is justified in their reaction because this ignorance directly affects them. That’s not to say I’m unjustified in going on the defensive: it’s a natural response to have when someone is angry at you. No one likes to be called ignorant when it has such negative connotations, when it is often synonymous with being a bad person. But being ignorant does not mean I am a bad person as long as I am willing to learn, to step out of the bubble of privilege and realize that while it might benefit me, it can be harmful to others. And so instead of becoming defensive I have to work to recognize my privilege, realize my ignorance does not absolve me of the harm it can cause, and realize how this privilege affects my perspective.
I think this issue of ignorance caused by privilege is important for everyone to recognize and work on in order to help correct the inequality that plagues our society, to poke a hole in the bubble of privilege so that hopefully one day it will pop. Because each and every person is a human being who deserves to have the same potential for opportunities, no matter their skin color or accent or last name or culture.
The Lion is Columbia’s only open-submissions publication. To respond to this piece or to submit one of your own, email firstname.lastname@example.org