As a writer, we choose our words carefully. We are well aware of how the subtleties of similar meanings can alter things; how they can lead someone’s thinking and feeling as they read.
In life this happens daily, in all of our interactions – words influence us to think and feel and can trigger in us all manner of reactions. It is rare that people stop to analyze the intent of the words measured against their visceral reactions to the words.
Case in point – the word “privilege”. Most people in the US culture associate that with wealth. And so the immediate response upon hearing it is: “I work hard for everything I have and no one cut me any slack”.
But the usage of privilege in the context of race, is really talking about bias and prejudice. That certain assumptions are made about a person based on their appearance.
To give an example of this – that doesn’t refer to racial bias, here is something that has happened to a close friend of mine who is white. They are also older and tend to dress in very loose layers of androgynous clothing – partly because they are often cold, and partly for comfort. We have gone to a certain restaurant together numerous times (I am Asian but look Mediterranean to most folks). Together we usually got great service. But when they went to this restaurant by themselves, they were ushered to a dark corner and tacitly ignored for over 40 minutes in spite of waving down the waitstaff a few times trying to give their order for a meal. Finally they left. Our only explanation for this treatment is that by themselves, dressed the way they do, they may have appeared to be a homeless person. Bias on the part of the wait staff. Or prejudice.
To take it apart further, even if the bias was about their age, and ability to leave a tip – it is still bias. And it still hurts and angers the recipient.
THAT is what privilege is pointing to…but the word still has the connotation of wealth – which negates the very point it is trying to make. Sadly.
So I ask you…to simply take a look at your biases. The generalizations that you might make casually…analyze them. And make a conscious effort to see if your biases might be unjust, even if only once in a while.
Each of us can choose to be more aware. Each of us can battle our own biases and grow. And if all else fails, simply try to treat others with the respect and courtesy you expect for yourself.