Why Simply Acknowledging Privilege is Not Enough

Critical thinking. What we have heard for years, how to mold students into the “critical thinkers.” To me- I’ve always interpreted this as the “gifted” kids- those who thought out of the box, could complete a Sudoku puzzle in less than the 24 hours it’ll take me, and were intelligent, bright enough students who could figure out those daunting word problems. Yet recently, truly in my 16th year of school (yes- my senior year of college), have I realized what it means to think critically about the normative messages that incessantly surround us. To view, discuss, and challenge what I have so often taken for granted. And of course, this begins with facing my own privilege as well as how our culture interprets privilege.

Let me begin by stating that I am privileged in various ways. Privileges: the unearned rights, entitlements, social and political power received from being born white, an English-speaker, middle-class, proper neighborhood, employed parents, able-bodied, and average-sized (a few of my personal privileges). In their article The Meaning of Whiteness (2000), Jackson, Shin, and Wilson claim that “the social, political, and economic constitution and enactment of race has made people believe that they are not only different, but also adversaries” (p. 70). Because of these unearned rights, especially the color of my skin being white, I face less political, social, and emotional challenges compared to a person of color. This concept is extremely hard for many to grasp- as the most common argument is the reciting of the adage “as long as one works hard he or she can achieve anything.” Well- it’s simply not that simple.

The systems of institutionalized racism, of housing inequality and unequal representation, are ones that deserve massive amounts of criticism, and processes of renewal set in place to suspend, destroy, and renew the human rights, equality, and dignity the people who have been victims of it deserve. The invisible, subconscious and conscious elements that combine efforts to enact this system of power, keeping the oppressed remain oppressed, are plentiful and multifaceted. It would be impossible to see, know, and understand the many intersectional privileges and their contrasting disadvantages and the effects these have on peoples and their respective identities. Privilege and the oppression of people that are deemed the “other” in our Americanized I-Other mentality have enacted the sinister systems of oppression in place for a very, very long time. Perhaps it was when Europeans first began to pull the culture right from under Native Americans’ bare feet. I am no historian and I can’t assume the exact point where the I-versus-Other mentality began, but I do know it is incredibly vital that we interrupt the system of hegemonic power that is currently at play in our society. Now- this sounds pretty radical and I see that. But the thing is, we have to go beyond acknowledging our privilege in order to enact change. Sure, it is the absolute best starting point. But it is truly not enough.

In order to “breakdown” whiteness, to “abolish the construct of whiteness as an omnipresent feature of goodness and superiority,” is a daunting task (p. 73). Privilege, whiteness, racism and the implied white patriarchy have gone underground, embedded in our many cultural and social practices, our everyday life in infinite ways. Our TV shows and films, models and beauty products, schools and overall education system, housing and incarceration, biases and stereotypes, and especially our language, to name a few.

With privilege comes the implication in these systems of oppression.

Yet, with privilege also comes the potential use and leverage privilege in a good way.   This sounds INCREDIBLY simplistic but it’s extremely important. With such power dynamic, privilege must be used to bring about attention to the topics that many shy away from. To think critically about whom a particular discourse is silencing (!!!). To use our privileged voice to raise up another to be heard, not spoken for or spoken down to. Intersectional oppression must be discussed. Race has to be a topic of consideration, it would be naïve to assume we are in a post-racial society (i.e. I am color-blind. Lol). Acknowledge your privilege. Use your privilege for good. Go out and think critically.

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