Privilege

Oh boy is this a controversial topic. Privilege is undeniable, some of us have more privilege than others, some have almost none at all. For those of us born in the United States, we are already privileged because of where we live. Being born with or having certain skin colors, sexual preferences, incomes, diseases, etc. can all affect the amount of privilege that you have in this world. But what is privilege? The word sounds greedy, it sounds bad, like those with privilege are trying to take from those without. But that’s not what privilege is. Privilege is the ability to go about your daily life, be afforded opportunities and the chance to take those opportunities, without judgement, fear, persecution, or unfair treatment. As we embark on this difficult topic it is important to remember that those of us with inherent privilege such as being caucasian, straight, male, or upper-class, do not necessarily intend to deny or take privilege away from others.

As much as we might wish it we are all not born equal, nor are we made equal through our actions, choices, and lifestyle. Though true equality sounds great in our minds, it is just as impossible to create and maintain as communism. As a species and as individuals we all want to get ahead of the pack, whether those urges are completely genetic or driven by cultural conditioning it is hard to say, but humans have a subconscious tendency to want to do better than others, to climb the social ladder, to be the best. Though we no longer live in a world where we need to compete for resources and space, we have created societies that have decided to continue the competition and so we have inequality and privilege.

Personally, i think privilege is something we just have to come to terms with. Most of us are simply born with or without privilege due to our skin color, gender, country of birth, etc. The problem is that stripping someone of their privilege in order to even the playing field for those without privilege often feels like an attack. Being born with privilege does not make you a bad person, having privilege does not make you a bad person. So how do we tackle privilege?

I think that the privilege walk is a great conversation starter. The next step is taking the thoughts, emotions, and ideas generated by the walk and finding ways to implement change, even on a small scale. As a teacher i think that the privilege walk would be an excellent way to start the conversation about privilege, however i would be wary of intentionally creating lines of separation between students. I think that as important as this topic is, this is an activity that would best fit an older mind, high school or college, where the students have the ability to step back and the wherewithal to understand the emotional strain placed upon some students by this activity. That being said i think that this activity could be incredibly mind-opening for students. The visual metaphor is extremely powerful, and i think there is something particularly poignant about holding hands and breaking grip as people fall farther behind, or move ahead. I’m not sure if this activity has a place in my classroom, but i certainly think it has a place in education. The key to this activity is introducing and discussing it tactfully, powerfully, and openly.

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