Foxy Insights: No, You Really Do Need to Check Your Privilege

So the Princeton Privileged Kid op-ed has been circling for a while, and I read it and was pretty much inarticulately angry about it (which, anyone who knows me will to tell you, is rare). Then this article from Jezebel (yeah, yeah, leftist schill, rampant feminist, blahblahblah) finally loosened my tongue, or in this case my fingers. It makes a lot of good points I won’t, about privilege being a macro thing and not a personal one, but it did give me somewhere to start.

I read that op-ed and was this close to snarling, because the author totally missed the point of privilege. While people shouldn’t be shamed or silenced for their privilege, my problem is when people don’t bother to recognize their privilege and then try to offer their opinion on something they don’t fully understand because of their privilege. That, I’m sorry to say, is when your opinion isn’t really worth the air that exits your derriere.

As terrible as they are, your ancestral struggles are second hand. Sure, they’ve probably shaped how you think about your family, and you’ve probably grown up with these values and mindset, but you’ve never experienced them. You have never grown up with parents who don’t value education, nor have you cherished the smell of garbage because at last you have a mattress to sleep on. You have never been told you can’t do something because you’re a girl, or that your appearance is more valuable than your brain is. You’ve never been told that your love, your sexual health, and your identity are wrong, immoral, and illegal. Growing up, you’ve had your pick of role models; Society has told you you can be anything, not just the brainy Asian or the sexpot or the girl next door.

I know my privilege. Just because my uncle had to jump trains to bring food to my grandfather and avoid being shot by communists during the early Chinese revolution, just because my mom’s family could only afford a dozen eggs a year, just because my dad came to Canada with $26 in his pockets and started TA-ing Chemistry with next to no English, doesn’t mean I am any less privileged now. My struggling parents still valued education over all else. I’m straight. My family now is firmly middle class. So every time I talk to a gay friend about sexual politics, every time I meet someone who struggles with learning something I find very basic, every time I meet someone who can’t afford their tuition, I try and stop and realize my biases, and more often than not, I find myself keeping my mouth shut, because I can’t offer anything worth listening to, and I usually learn something.

It’s not to say that if you have privilege, your opinion is not worth listening to. Some of the best thoughts on being Asian I’ve ever had come from my blond, Caucasian boyfriend, because he understood my viewpoint, but also had his own viewpoint to offer.  Those without privilege also should not dismiss insight out of hand because of the offeree’s privilege. A guy with a study about female urinary cones, is still a person with research on female urinary cones. You can question the validity of the research, or the methodology, or the source of the research, or the contradicting source, but check your own privilege as well, the “privilege” that you have as someone with insight in the situation. What I mean by that, is that you need to understand your own biases, and recognize that while you might have insight that the other person doesn’t, the other person might also have something to add. They might not, but they might actually have something to add.

Saying that we should all be equal and thus you’ll act like such is laudable, admirable even. But ignoring the reality, that by an accident of birth, you’re born with advantages, and a certain mindset, is not. When someone tells you to check your privilege, they shouldn’t be asking you to shut up. They shouldn’t be telling you to be ashamed of being white, being educated, being straight, or being anything. What they should be asking you to consider the different backgrounds, values, and advantages you’ve had in life, and then consider your input through someone else’s lens and ask yourself if it’s really valuable. You might find, more often than not, you don’t have much to add.

I guess it’s kind of appropriate to start the Foxy Insight series with a post on this one, because I need to be careful that what I’m writing might add value, and that I consider my own biases and experience. While I think they’re valuable, I think I also need to be aware of them. I’d also like to be aware of the other side, and accept that someone might write me a response telling me that I’m all wrong, and that’s okay.

Foxy Insights is a series about a normal person’s view on everything, not necessarily sexy. Read more here.

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