Privilege isn’t always about the things you gain but in the things you aren’t forced to endure.
When talking about the #AllLivesMatter or even worse #WhiteLivesMatter “movements” as counters to #BlackLivesMatter the discussion tends to dissolve to marginalized white people claiming they have no privilege. Their reasoning is they “get” nothing for being white. In some cases they will come up with what they suppose are examples of so-called reverse racism where they interpret the world as treating them badly because they are white.
Generally, that’s all bullshit. It’s a bunch of whataboutism that is meant to undermine a minority and keep them oppressed. Most of the people espousing #AllLivesMatter know full well that black lives are indeed different than white lives in nearly every interaction both have with the world around them. The reason #AllLivesMatter is powerful is because it ensures the continued suppression of minorities by forcing them to an equal footing despite their oppression.
It happens because of a strict adherence to the idea that privilege means a gain. The idea being one isn’t privilege if they are getting the minimum of what they’re supposed to be getting in the first place. It’s a narrow viewpoint based on a singular definition of privilege.
The reality that is overlooked, usually intentionally, is that yes, you are not privileged because you are gaining something special it is that you are privileged because you are not losing the base level bare minimum in the first place. You still end up better off than those around you strictly because you are being treated the way your supposed to be and they are not because they are receiving LESS than what would otherwise be equal.
I am extremely privileged because I don’t have to deal with the same level oppression and bigotry that minorities have to deal with day-in and day-out. And, the few times I’ve experienced anything close to what they might be experiencing it was a one-off occurrence that was easily rectified by the ongoing presence of my privilege rather than spiraling into a the negative reality they routinely face.
While to those who are experiencing privilege it might seem to some like they don’t gain a lot from their privilege, chances are they aren’t losing a lot either, and that’s the point.
Let’s do a “for example.” I’ve been discriminated against for housing and I would be willing to bet jobs at some point because of my heritage. Someone saw my last name and decided that because my family’s lineage came from a country that wasn’t supporting the US in one of it’s ill-fated military operations they could simply tell me the apartment was no longer available or the job had been filled. Didn’t matter much, though, because that kind of xenophobic ignorance in reality cost me very little. Upon looking at one of the next apartments I had a home. Upon interviewing for the next jobs I had employment.
Imagine, however, if that next apartment I tried to rent ended up just like the last, and the next one after that and the next one after that. Housing discrimination is a thing even with explicit laws in place to combat it. Same with jobs interviews and employment discrimination. The methods range from exceedingly explicit to tactfully implicit but nonetheless it happens more to minorities than it does to whites. And, what’s worse is often because of systemic racism it’s difficult for minorities to do anything about it.
If I wanted to file a suit against a potential landlord or perhaps employer because of the ethnic discrimination I faced it would be fairly easy to find a lawyer to take my case. But, it’s not always a guarantee that would happen with a minority and it’s not just because they might not have the financial means I have to retain a lawyer, although that place a role in it too. It’s in part because as a white victim there’s a good chances I’ll get a more fair look at my case by a governmental agencies reviewing it, or by a judge and jury, or even just by public shaming in the press or online, like on twitter. Whereas, a minority much greater chance of having their story questioned and being victim blamed in the process of seeking justice. The bar is might higher for them than it would be for me. What’s more, is that I would probably only need to file one maybe two claims, whereas they might have to file dozens because they are facing it as a routine course of matter where I only faced it by a single xenophobe. That’s stressful emotionally as well as financially which is why it happens as often as it does, those perpetrating it know it’s an uphill fight for the victim.
My experience therefore is nothing like theirs, but it at least gives me some sort of perspective. If I can face it than anyone can. The key thing is I do only face it minimally. That’s my privilege protecting me from the kind of systemic abuse that others face. What I’m generally receiving as fair and unbiased access to housing and employment is the bare minimum of what anyone should receive, so I can see what that’s not necessarily perceived as privilege. In this case, I’m getting what I’m supposed to.
Wherein lies the privilege though is I’m NOT getting what I’m not supposed to. It’s what is NOT happening to me by being discriminated against that is my privilege.
Attempts at evening the playing field, at giving everyone an opportunity to NOT be discriminated against are then interpreted by #AllLivesMatter types of folks as being unfair. Why? Because up until this point they didn’t face any real competition for jobs or housing because that competition was being repressed. All of a sudden it’s not that minorities are getting special treatment, it’s that they are getting equal treatment an that equal treatment is causing those who had the privilege of not being oppressed to experience equality as it was supposed to.
The reality is they did potentially receive something from their privilege, less competition, but it was obscured by the fact that others were being actively discriminated against. It’s kind of circular in that the benefit of privilege only exists by first not being subjected to being not-privileged. That’s part of why #AllLivesMatter gets their position wrong – many of them (willfully) lack the reasoning to be able to understand this because it’s not necessarily straight forward.
Now, imagine if the privilege wasn’t just extended to housing and employment. What if it had to do with your every interaction.
I have an encounter with the police. They treat me exactly as they are supposed to in a manner of protecting and serving society. I have the benefit of being presumed innocent. They maintain all of my rights during the interaction. I don’t necessarily experience privilege in the traditional sense because I’m not necessarily getting any treatment in addition to exactly what I’m supposed to be receiving in the first place.
My privilege in this case is that I’m not getting the treatment that presumes potential guilt rather than innocence and that my rights are being maintained rather that might be willfully violated. I’m getting what the law prescribes but I’m privilege in that I am getting what the law prescribes since someone else is not.
It’s not just how the police treat me either. It’s how a lawyer might interact with me in assessing my situation and a District Attorney might handle my case. How a judge will oversee it and in the cases of a jury trial how the jury will perceive it. It’s how the court of public opinion will interpret me and my story. And so on.
It’s why a white rapist with money can get a slap on the wrist but a black man who is pulled over on a routine traffic stop can end up bullet riddled and the police despite video evidence of wrongdoing are exonerated. It’s why a Christian extremist can murder a doctor at a health clinic in cold blood and face a minimum charge and receive a minimum sentence and a legally permitted black man with a gun can end up shot by police on a routine traffic stop despite having pulled the man over without what most would call justifiable cause. It’s why a bunch of extremist white militia guys can take over government land multiple times and essentially walk away despite breaking a plethora of Federal and State laws but an inner city man reselling lose cigarettes is killed by police using an illegal choke hold. It’s why a lone wolf white gunman can slaughter people, be brought in more times than not alive, and his motive is being mentally ill but any minority with a gun is labeled a thug or a jihadist, killed on sight and branded a gang-banger or a terrorist regardless of their actual affiliations.
Living is the bare minimum for, well, anything. I don’t have to walk around wondering if any interaction I have might end with me dead. And, that my friend is privilege. I walk around assuming the safety and security I should have as a basic human right. My minority friends don’t. I’m privileged because I DON’T worry about dying even though life is the status quo and I’m not gaining anything extra by living it.
It’s not that All Lives don’t matter when someone says #BlackLivesMatter it is that white lives already matter quite a bit and in this case Black Lives should matter too. Pointing out that Black Lives should matter doesn’t mean that any lives matter less than they already do. It’s that Black Lives don’t actually enjoy the status quo that other lives, privileged lives, already enjoy. Lifting Black Lives up doesn’t bring anyone else down. So lets stop pretending that it does when discussing equality.