A Working Understanding of Privilege
Police in Texas arrested 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed of Irving for building a clock. Ahmed has a keen interest in robotics and engineering, and put the device together on Sunday. He took it to school the next day, was pulled out of class, interviewed by police officers, and taken in handcuffs to juvenile detention, after being told by teachers that his creation looked like a bomb.
Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, Ahmed’s father, says his child suffered because of prejudice against Muslims. “Because his name is Mohamed and because of September 11th.”
Many Americans are now awakening to the fact that systematic racism in the United States largely benefits white people. White people should not feel guilty for benefiting from racism; no one chose to be born what they are, nor are they responsible for the actions of their ancestors. However, I think it’s reasonable and important to ask whether white people should be asked to recognize the benefits they potentially gain from being the beneficiary of ongoing and persistent racism throughout the history of the country codified by law and embodied in society (privilege), and if they are in positions to do so or have the desire, to work towards reducing or ending that inherent advantage and move towards fairness, equality and justice.
Not Just White People
Privilege is any person in any position of cultural power, which can change be based on many factors, but in America are generally cis-gendered, heterosexual, White, handi-capable, Christian, males of socioeconomic means. If you have any of these, you generally benefit from societal privilege. The more you have, the more privileged you are. In America, it’s not that white people created privilege because they were white, but because they created social and political systems that benefitted themselves and maintain it through political, social, and legal influence.
Change Has Come
There become less white people in the country as we move forward. It turns out, everyone loves having sex with everyone else and are making kids that the history of the country will not check off. As a result, using the political and judicial process, public policy has been crafted to provide opportunities for those who were denied traditionally because they were not in a privileged group. Ironically, the reason this policy was created and approved by members of these privileged groups is because those groups already dominated the arena the policies were created for. The reason these policies still exist are because the “isms” that cause the imbalance in the first place still affect people.
“I Don’t Put People In Boxes”
That’s the ideal we aspire to, but it’s not very American. Past law and policy that specified race, sex, gender and religion in voting, housing and education still affecting us today tell us so. The very creation of the United States was made regarding these things. Something about all men are created equal and such. Those without privilege are often asked to reject their culture and values in order to fit in (or out of) the “non-box” box. The penalties for no doing so can be severe. There are a myriad examples of people who reached success regardless of challenges like these, but that only reinforces the role of privilege in the American dream making it far easier for some more than others for reasons beyond the content of their character.