Check Your Privilege

Remember this: you found this on the internet.

The truth being told here is mine and mine alone. If you disagree with what I am about to say, then… well…

Then go ahead and disagree.

What does it mean when someone says, “check your privilege?” Boy Howdy, I have struggled with this one a lot. It seems that I am not alone in this. I have heard and read people reacting to this phrase in a lot of angry, confused, hurt, bewildered ways. As have I.

I think I am beginning to get a grip on what the hell it means.

First, here are a couple of things it does NOT mean:

1) Check your privilege does NOT mean; “you are a sorry piece of shit representing all the evil in the world!” If you feel like someone just said that to you, then you may have misunderstood.

2) Check your privilege does NOT mean; “you have nothing important to contribute to any conversation about race, gender, preference, etc. Crawl back under your rock.” This is a little tricky, because it may be partly true, IN THE MOMENT. Keep reading and you’ll understand.

3) Check your privilege does NOT mean; “because you have privilege you will never be able to understand people who ACTUALLY suffer.” This is not about your capacity to understand. If you feel someone meant this when they called you on your privilege, then you are possibly confusing your privilege with your humanity.

4) Check your privilege does NOT mean; “you suck.” See number 1 above.

If you understood anything resembling the 4 examples above when someone said you should check your privilege, then the chances are high that you do not fully understand what is being suggested to you. But relax… Take a deep breath… Actually, it is not nearly as threatening or complicated as it may seem right now.

Checking your privilege is a pretty simple process. I have come up with a 4 step checklist for checking your privilege.

1) Stop talking. Seems simple enough, but really, this can be challenging. It is common to want to explain or run for cover when your privilege is called out. Fight this urge. Continuing to speak before completing the checklist will only make things worse.

2) Remember what you just said and in what context you said it. Say it back to yourself in your mind. Listen to what it sounds like. Imagine that someone else said it. This is really important. It is a skill to practice. Try really really hard to hear yourself in the third person.

3) Examine any assumptions, implications, assertions, imperatives and conclusions in your words that MAY NOT BE TRUE FOR EVERYONE. That is the long and short of it. Privilege can create a blind spot that assumes everyone has the same experience as you do. It isn’t true, so review your words for anything you phrased as universal which is actually specific to your particular set of privileges.

4) Report back on what you discovered. This is such an important part of checking privilege. Verbalizing how you now understand what was influencing your words does two things. It shows people that you are learning to be aware of your privilege and it reinforces your new knowledge to yourself so you don’t do it again.

One more thing; it is very possible to get hung up on step 3. The blind spot of privilege can be tricky to pierce. Take some time if you need to, but don’t give up on it. If after a day or so, you still can’t seem to find anything that sounds like privilege, do some research online. Or ask a trusted friend (one who has given you permission to ask questions like this). Whatever you do, don’t give up until you have exhausted every possible way to understand how your privilege may have influenced your thoughts and words.

That’s it! Check your privilege regularly, even when nobody asks you to. It is a great practice, easy to do and contributes to intellectual hygiene. With time and practice, you may be able to check your privilege BEFORE you speak or act!!! Imagine That!!


Silverback Gringo


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