Being an English major and a writer by hobby/happenstance - at times I find myself confounded when actively listening to conversations or partaking in them. It's fascinating to me when I hear certain words being misused, misconstrued or mispronounced. We've all had those interactions, I'm sure, where someone in a group convo throws out a fancy word that has absolutely zero relevance to the topic at hand; but because they express it with such gusto, such confidence and such authority.. we don't call them out on it. We politely slide them a pass. We don't want to be the smart-ass who slowly puts up their index finger and prolongs the word "AC-TU-ALLY"... followed by a long-winded explanation of why said person is incorrect. In our minds though, we're generally thinking:
Well, that's how I operate anyway. To be honest though, if I've learned anything from one of my favourite podcasts it is:
A) Words. Mean. Things; and
B) There are few things more irritating on the planet than people who are LOUD and WRONG at the same damn time.
Lol, you know - the people who immediately blurt out the wrong answer when someone asks a question in a room full of people? The ones who would gladly break their buzzer on Jeopardy because they think they know every answer, and still end up with a negative score? Those people. The ones who are usually "strong and wrong" in their facts. They're amusing to watch, sure! And kudos to them I guess for having the cajones to go boldly into their incorrect tirades. But every now and then, there comes a time when we've got to saddle up and issue corrections when something important gets twisted. And, one of the things that's been irking me is the ill-perceived notion that being deserving and being entitled are one in the same. Not so, friends.
Some dictionaries aren't really helping the cause either. For example, when you Google synonyms for "deserve", you get results like: = merit, warrant, be entitled to, have a right to, win, rate, earn, justify, be worthy of, etc. When you Google synonyms for "entitled", you get results like: privileged, favored, elite, advantaged, honored, indulged, powerful, ruling, and special. Am I the only one who sees that these two terms are not mutually exclusive? The Khaled-key here is that "to deserve" may include "to be entitled to" something; but to be "entitled to" something does not generally mean that one is "deserving" of it. So, when clearly privileged people communicate with each other and throw out a sentence like "Yeah, you totally deserved it dude!", sometimes I can literally feel my eyes roll to the back of head, because... Huh? Excuse you? Can we NOT?!
Now granted - yes, it is absolutely possible for so-called "privileged people" to legitimately earn things in life. They can earn a degree. They can earn Olympic gold medals. They can earn people's respect. However, there's also quite a slippery slope when it comes to believing you've truly "earned" something, when your success in "earning" that thing is fundamentally tied to your privilege. For example, in certain situations like corporate job advancements, getting qualified for a mortgage, or getting into a top school, privilege can often play a major role in the outcome, whether you choose to acknowledge your entitlement or not.
Nepotism, in all its various forms is one of the most evident and long-standing forms of privilege. We've all heard the expression "It's not what you know, it's who you know!", right? And, I'm not just talking nepotism at the bloodline-level; but the kind that extends beyond that to family friends, old college buddies, etc. Race and gender, are of course two of the biggest players in history when it comes to privilege. I mean, can you imagine where we would be without employment equity (aka affirmative action, aka positive discrimination)? Every company and institution would be a White-Men's-R-Us. Truth is - even with employment equity firmly in place within modern society, Caucasian males are still the most privileged people on the planet (followed by Caucasian women).
There are of course tons of other privileges that go unrecognized every day (i.e. sexual orientation, age, physicality, religion). And, while most people can't exactly change or forfeit the things that inherently make them "privileged", I think there are a few ways to properly pimp your privilege, so to speak:
- Know Yourself/Know Your Worth: Take a hard look at your upbringing, your family history, your immediate social circles; see what the common threads are re. race, employment history, social class, gender roles, etc.
- Acknowledge Your Privilege: After doing the legwork in the first step, learn to internally accept your privilege for what it is. No - you need not shout it from the rooftop or wear a "scarlet P for privilege" for the rest of your life. It just means that going forward... you'll recognize that even though you may have rightfully earned something great, there will always be a chance that your earning was built upon at least one major privilege. This step is a hard one for most because we kind of want to believe that if we just put our minds to something and work really really hard, then we'll all succeed and achieve our goals (cause fair is fair, right?) And this is not a false thing to believe. What's missing though, is the conscious awareness that we may not have actually gotten an opportunity to succeed without the "favourable" position that we were initially put in by the Man/Woman above (or by the Universe). If you want to work your privilege the right way... acknowledgement and gratitude are ESSENTIAL, folks. Otherwise, any win or success that you celebrate for your self will always have a looming asterix beside it - flagging the fact that you had some 'help'.
- Pass On The Power: Listen. Just because you fall within certain "privilege parameters", that doesn't make you the bad guy, nor does it make you someone who is not worthy of respect for your achievements. HOWEVER, in order to truly make the best of your entitlement, the best thing you can do is to use your privilege to make a path for someone else who doesn't fit your "privilege parameters". I mean, face it... privilege can boil down to a million different factors. There are the major ones, like race and gender; but there are also others like weight and personality type. Even some of the most disadvantaged people in the world have non-evident types of privilege. So don't be so blind to your own entitlement that you willfully ignore that others don't have the same benefit. If you see someone struggling to get beyond a particular privilege barrier - why not use some of your own privilege/power to help that person kick down a block or two so that they can get a foot in the door? It doesn't cost you anything to be kind, aware or mindful.
A wise philosopher by the name of Tupac Amaru Shakur, once said in a 1992 interview:
Translation? Think of it this way. If privilege were literally treated like currency, we might all be in a better space. Most of us work to earn a dollar, but when we use that dollar to get something we want, we have to pay a tax on that something, right? So, shouldn't privilege work in the same fashion? When we work our privilege to our own advantage and attain something we want because of it, it's sort of our duty pay a 'privilege tax' and pass on some of that privilege to someone else.... ain't it?
With that said... Let me just leave this here: