Updated: Mar 3, 2019
Blog post by Misk Khalif pushing all of us to check our privilege.
Check your privilege: a phrase popularized by social media as a way to warn individuals of when their privilege leads to their ignorance. Many of us have likely seen this phrase countless times when scrolling through social media. Maybe we’ve retweeted or liked a post surrounding the topic, or even used the phrase ourselves. It’s easy to recognize and call out other people for their ignorance, but we often don’t do the same to ourselves.
Ignoring your privileges also means ignoring others’ disadvantages, inadvertently adding to the inequity.
Black, Muslim, and female: the first things people notice when they look at me. Because of this, I’ve experienced racism, islamophobia, and sexism starting from a young age. Therefore, being told to “check my privilege” sounded like some ironic joke. After all, what privilege could someone like me even have? When I was younger, the injustices and mistreatment I faced due to my identity led me to believe I couldn’t possibly have been privileged. This is a common misconception within our generation, and it continues to propagate the false idea that a privileged individual can never experience oppression or vice versa. I attend a private school, have no disabilities, and will never fear sharing my sexuality. Things I don’t even think twice about can be major obstacles for others. Being privileged gives you an upper hand, providing you with advantages over others regardless of whether you deserve it. Therefore, ignoring your privileges also means ignoring others’ disadvantages, inadvertently adding to the inequity. With social inequality still being such a pervasive issue, our generation must recognize our privileges so we can eradicate the prejudices that have plagued our society for far too long.
Race is one of the biggest determiners of one’s privilege. Racial privilege impacts virtually all aspects of society and can even affect things as miniscule as makeup. White privilege, for example, means going to a makeup store and easily finding a shade of foundation to match your skin. In a Huffington Post Article, Karim Orange, an Emmy nominated makeup artist, explains her experience with the lack of diversity in makeup. She “found that L’Oreal,” one of the biggest brands in the industry, “had 16 shades for lighter-skinned Caucasian women and only seven shades for women of color (including Asian and Latino women, along with African-American women).” While this issue may appear trivial to some, to people of color this perpetuates the idea that identifying as anything other than white makes you inferior and undeserving of simple luxuries. In a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 4,971 Americans from different racial backgrounds were asked whether they believed white people received advantages because of their race. Only 43% of the surveyed White Americans agreed that their race provided them with some form of privilege, meaning 57% disagreed. To these 57% of people, the fact that white families hold 90% of the nation’s wealth and is nothing more than chance. To these 57% of people, the 36% higher chance a white person has to get a callback for a job over an equally qualified black person is unrelated to race. Clearly, step one is realizing when you are the beneficiary of white privilege. Upon recognizing the inherent and unfair advantage, it is crucial that you realize people of color will sometimes have their voices silenced, but that it’s not your place to speak on their behalf. Rather, you should listen, empathize, and assist in spreading their voices.
Another factor that determines an individual’s privilege is gender. Despite making up nearly half of the world’s population, women are still significantly disadvantaged compared to their male counterparts. Over 62 million girls worldwide are without an education. In many of these cases, especially when the educational opportunities are limited, families often prioritize sending males to school over females. This is a blatant example of male privilege in that it assumes an education is more useful for men, and that women should be confined to a domestic lifestyle. Male privilege is also present in other aspects of life. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 91% of sexual assault and rape victims in the U.S. are female. Virtually every girl or woman I’ve ever met has been told to only go places in groups and to never walk in the dark alone because, as females, we’re taught that we must protect ourselves from the ever-present dangers lurking around every corner. When 1 in 5 women in America will eventually be sexually assaulted, feeling safe, even in your own community, is a privilege most women simply can’t afford. These issues can only be resolved through a unified effort of both men and women. As a man it’s important to recognize that feminist movements aren’t aimed attacking you, but rather creating an equal balance amongst the two genders. Additionally, be more cognizant of the sexism you observe in daily life and stop justifying men’s immoral actions as “boys just being boys.”
Unfortunately, eliminating this system of privilege will not be an easy task; our privileges have become so normalized that we often forget we have them. As a first step, I ask that everyone in this room spend the upcoming week documenting the privileges you benefit from no matter how big or how small they may be. By “checking our privileges,” we can begin the journey towards social equality, multiplying the effects through our diverse, yet unified, efforts. Lastly, the next time someone tells you to “check your privilege” ask that they do the same.