Culture

Ethnicity, Gender and Communication: Privilege

Privilege is an advantage, right or perk that is not available to everyone, but only an elite group. For example, my boyfriend and I work for the same company, his group reimburses a portion of his cell phone expenses, while mine does not. He was complaining when they took that benefit away. I explained to him how he cannot complain because it was a privilege, not a right. He should be happy for the benefit while he had it, because others just as deserving did not get the same perk.

Privilege affects our everyday lives. I grew up in North Carolina where two schools, more specifically their basketball teams, dominate everyday life of sports fans. Most of my friends were all Carolina fans… while there were a few, who happened to live in more areas, who were Duke fans. Jump to several years later, and I’m still a Carolina fan, while my boyfriend is a Dukie. Now he’s a guy who grew up in Orange County, California, his dad a prominent lawyer in L.A. I’ve become friends with all of his alumni friends, and through this I see how privilege affects the choices you can make in life. Most of the people I grew up in N.C. couldn’t afford, therefore dream, to go to Duke. They all therefore were Carolina fans… and now I see why there was such an intense rivalry against Duke, because the majority of their student population was made up of out-of-state kids from wealthy families. Privilege.

This exercise reminds me of just how much inequality there still remains in America despite advancements that have been made over the years. White men continue to be the most privileged in America from every perspective of everyday life – access to the best education, health care, nutrition and professions. These privileges all contribute to their overall greater achievement of quality of life and happiness, in short success. In second place, white women come closest to accessing these exclusive privileges.

Race has so much to do with the disparities seen in America. The color of your skin, if any other than white, leads to varying degrees of denial of privileges. This exercise pointed out how difficult it might be to gain a loan for a home, not based on qualifications, but merely skin color. Or how about to become a teacher? Such a thankless job with poor pay and yet nationally the opportunity for minorities to teach in our colleges are far less if you aren’t white.

As poorly as you may be treated based on your race, it gets far worse for those who are of an alternative sexual orientation. Those who are gay, especially men, are treated with such contempt and face such awful harassment. I had a co-worker, when I first started working with him I felt slightly uncomfortable because his eyes always seemed to be dropped to chest level. This was a new one for me because I’m not that particularly well endowed. I mentioned it to another woman on our team, and she laughed and said not to worry because he’s gay. As we became friends I learned that he hid is orientation because he feared how his boss, a good ol’ golden southern boy, would treat him if he knew. Looking back I now realize that Bobby’s eye level during conversation of course had nothing to do with women’s breasts, but was more than likely a reflection of his self-esteem evidenced through his inability to meet one in their eyes.

I went to dinner tonight with one of my friends who happens to be bi-sexual. I told her about this essay I’m writing and asked if she had any experiences with the affect of her sexual orientation on privileges that she may or may not enjoy. She then told me about one night where she went out with friends to a the Rose, a bar on Capitol Hill, with some of her girlfriends. One of them noted a car parked out front and the various bumper stickers on it. From them she said it was apparent that the car belonged to a black handicapped lesbian woman – her friend comment on how you couldn’t be more disadvantaged when it comes to privilege. I thought it was interesting that she actually used the word privilege, and how absolutely accurate the statement was as evidenced by the survey in this exercise.

What has dawned on me, a realization that I’ve had, as I was thinking through this exercise is that the privileges you enjoy or are denied so directly impact the opportunity you have to achieve personal success. Previously while I was aware of the privileges denied many based on their race, gender, and sexual orientation but I had a naive notion that despite this denial most anyone could overcome the disadvantages to find success. But that’s just it, that’s such a rare case and the story is usually preempted with how the person ‘overcame insurmountable odds’.

Time that has passed has shown that for things to really change a conscious national effort needs to be made to raise awareness and ultimately social conscience. Supporting the under privileged rights needs to move from being an activists job to the responsibility of each and every citizen of this country. Only then might we see real change, and privileges may finally become rights.

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