One reason conversations about privilege are so hard to accept is, the form it often takes, is in all the hidden benefit-of-the-doubt that people get for being whatever the social landscape around them classifies as “Normal.”
So when privilege is mentioned, people feel stigmatized for their “Normalcy” and don’t especially know what to do with that. They feel attacked for something they’ve always been either ignored or rewarded for in the past. They also, universally, feel like they’re being stigmatized for things they didn’t CHOOSE about themselves, which interacts negatively with one of the ways that majority-group-members can learn to map what behaviors are wrong. “Stigmatizing people for things they didn’t choose to be is wrong” is one way some people shorthand/navigate a world of prejudices into a manageable ethos. And so they end up feeling like this is being done to them, and therefore the person doing it is a bad person who doesn’t understand justice and equality. It trips a false-positive on prejudice-detection that they use in themselves, to stay in line.
Discussing this set of hidden benefits of “Normalcy” explains just about every intersecting kind of privilege in a way that sidesteps a lot of those misunderstandings. Everybody fundamentally gets that most people trust people who are Weird in some way, or deviate from their idea of Average in some way, differently. The whole idea of privilege, in practice, can be boiled down to “All the ways you’re not losing benefit-of-the-doubt with the average american by being weird/different than them or their expectations of normal.” The tie of Normalcy to Benefit-Of-The-Doubt is why police officers feel more threatened more often in nonthreatening situations by minorities than whites. The tie of Normalcy to Benefit-Of-The-Doubt is why minorities are followed around more often in stores by staff worried about shoplifting. The tie of Normalcy to Benefit-Of-The-Doubt is why being a straight white guy in a Philadelphia bar doesn’t get you beaten up for being that, nearly as often as being a not-quite-passing mexican transwoman in a Philadelphia bar.
There are a million little checkboxes we tick, that map the things about us strangers will find fault with. There are even more that just decide if they ignore us or worry about our intentions, before even speaking to us. It’s a deeply mammal thing. The more boxes for whatever constitutes Normalcy where you live, the fewer categories are likely to lose you the Benefit-Of-The-Doubt with someone new. And that benefit of the doubt can save your life. When a law enforcement officer is searching for an armed suspect, whether or not you immediately read as Suspicious or get written off as part of the background noise of a scene Really Matters, especially if your hand is coming out of your pocket.
Privilege isn’t binary. It’s not “you have this condition so you’re a bad person. But it’s important that we recognize, at minimum, and first, the ways that other people don’t receive the benefit-of-the-doubt we do, by being less “normal” than we individually are, in one way or another. His neck tattoo makes him read to strangers as lower class, diminishing his Class Privilege. Her sex tells auto mechanics that she doesn’t know much about cars and they try to rip her off more often or talk down to her, demonstrating her lack of Male Privilege (the benefits-of-the-doubt given to men but not to women) I could go on, but I think you get it.
The next time you’re encountering the word Privilege, try to translate it in your head to mean “The benefits-of-the-doubt extended to X, but not to Y.” That filter helps, until you’re comfortable enough looking at this stuff to not feel too attacked by it to examine how it shapes your day-to-day.
Ideally, we want to move toward a set of social understandings where everybody gets the benefit-of-the-doubt that everybody else gets. When that happens, the whole Grouping and Identity Politics that everyone laments won’t be necessary. Until then, just add the filter to your list of ways you interpret the world. Listen to people talk about their lives, and think about how differences in Social Class, in Income, Gender, Sex, Race and a million other metrics, contribute to the ways people react to them, and the assumptions people make about them based upon those things.
As an additional note about the psychologies of people reacting badly to discussions of White Privilege, if your sense of self and your value is grounded in the idea that you started with nothing, and nobody ever gave you anything, the idea of Privilege can make you (inaccurately) worry that someone’s telling you you were handed things you weren’t handed, or that your life was easy, neither of which are what Privilege means.
People who resent the idea of White Privilege are often arguing that they weren’t born to Wealth Privilege, which is an entirely different thing. These overlock and intersect in lots of ways because of history, with one being more predictive-than-prescriptive of the other, but it 100% doesn’t mean a person’s had an easy life or had things handed to them economically. They’re different things.
It’s mostly a priorities call.
I’m all for Traditions.
I just like the ones that don’t ask anybody to live a less genuine, less fully-realized, less-complete life, because during an arbitrary snapshot of our history that we look fondly on now as the good-old-days, we didn’t know enough about X Y or Z kinds of people to see them as valid ways to exist.
I like traditions that include the serving of pie, songs we all know, the things we celebrate annually. I like traditions that we still know and approve the reasons for. Things that remind us who we are and what we love. Mostly the ones that have dessert, but also spiritual bits. I like traditions that a family makes, themselves, that make particular seasons or activities special.
Tradition, for its own sake, as a “virtue” isn’t worth the time you waste trying to tell me it’s a good enough reason to strip ThePursuitOfHappiness off someone else’s inalienable rights. Tradition, for its own sake, isn’t a reason to structure norms in such a way that some people remain an underclass while others rise. Tradition, for its own sake, is a habit, and not all habits are good. Some only feel good at the time, and later end up as the reasons that we die. Go take a cigarette break before you try and tell me that I’m wrong.
Tradition’s great, when all you mean by it is Tradition, not “a whole package of who it used to be ok to ostracize and push around back when the world was good.”
But in the vein of “this is why we can’t have nice things,” you’ve got the “of course women belong in the kitchen and minorities belong in their own dirt poor countries far away and christianity ought to be the only religion here again” WesternTraditionalism crowd ruining the word for everyone else.
So yeah. Priorities. Tradition’s great. Wherever it’s not being used as a pathetically thinly veiled escuse to maintain someone’s oppression and try to sell that as a virtue, then it’s great. But where it is? What’s more important? Liberty – real liberty? For everyone? Or how we used to do things in the past. You get to pick. You’d best pick right.
This message has been brought to you by the department of “some jackwagon tried to tell me that women are Simple Creatures who are Much Happier and More Fulfilled in their lives when Given Structure and returned to their Traditional social roles as the Caretakers and maintainers of the home and family, and relieved of the duty to self-direct.”
I imagine you can picture how that went…