• Gillian Cormier

Let's Talk Privilege

Privilege. A word which umbrella’s a broad set of meanings, situations, circumstances and people. A word that we have been using a lot especially over this past year. A word that brings upon feelings of frustration, misunderstanding or (hopefully) actions of empathy. A word that is present in all of our lives, every single day. A word of inequity.


Privilege is not a word we should be scared of. Privilege needs to be acknowledged. More than just that, we need to use our privilege to be allies and to educate ourselves.


What exactly is privilege? Privilege is having an advantage compared to others in certain situations and in a bigger sense, in life as a whole. A few reasons why I am privileged are because I am white, I am cisgendered, I am educated, I have socio-economic freedom, and I have food on my table every day, never having to worry about a lack of proper nutrition.


Woman's March, January 2018. Victoria Hendrycks (left), Gillian Cormier (me, right)

Being a woman makes me less privileged given the role of women’s history. As a woman, I worry about walking home alone at night, I have to watch my drink while I am out. In terms of work, if I wanted to pursue a career in something that was primarily male dominated in history for example, in a managerial role or physical labour role, I may feel as if I am being treated differently than my male colleagues or belittled for the work that I do. In other words, I may feel disadvantaged and feel that I must work harder to prove that I am enough. That does not mean that I am not confident nor full of worry all of the time. However, it is a part of what women themselves face as opposed to our male colleagues. This is based on how others treat women day to day, based on systems that existed in the past and are still present today. I am however, cisgendered, meaning that I do not face the same inequalities of my transgendered people, giving a systematic privilege compared to them.


Some Categories of Privilege

I have always been worried about saying the wrong thing or speaking the wrong way. At the same time, I’ve always wanted to support all various groups of people advocating for better lives/for human rights. I wanted to serve as an ally—staying silent does not go hand in hand with being an ally. In Luvvie Ajayi Jones' TED talk Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable, she expressed after facing many struggles and inequities that "my silence serves no one". I echo her words, exclaiming that I choose to speak up for those facing hardship and inequities in our society—those who are underrepresented, disrespected, under-appreciated and maltreated. I do want to emphasize that though I choose to speak up, I notice when to not speak for them—to amplify their voices; not to steal theirs.


To do this, we need to start somewhere. We must accept that we won’t know everything. We need to accept that we all have certain ignorances, and work on putting them to an end. We will work on educating ourselves, being empathetic and understanding. We must acknowledge our various privileges. Acknowledging our privilege itself is the first step in becoming an ally. We must check what gives us advantages in our society, and help lift each other up.


Let’s reflect on some ways that you may be more or less privileged:


Reasons why you are more privileged:

  • Can show affection for your romantic partner without fear or ridicule without ridicule or violence

  • You get time off for your religious holidays

  • You came from a supportive family environment

  • You can see a doctor whenever you feel like it

  • You are able to move through the world without fear of sexual assault

  • You took out loans for your education

  • There were more than 50 books in your house growing up

Reasons why you are less privileged:

  • Your parents worked nights and weekends to support your family

  • You were embarrassed of your clothes or house while growing up

  • At once point in your life, you have been diagnosed for having a mental or physical illness/disability

  • You were bullied or made fun of based on something you cannot change

These questions were taken from "What is Privilege" video and can be found here. There are more questions in the description if you would like to see more.


We will never know exactly how it feels to be in someone else’s shoes and similarly we will never fully understand the complexities of inequities until we are in that very position. We do not need to be experts in order to be an ally but we do need to have a certain degree of knowledge.


We all have a certain amount of privilege and experience it differently. We are part of a system which makes life easier for some than others. We mustn't feel guilty for the privilege we have, but rather grateful for what we do have. With that being said, we must acknowledge the systems that have given us certain unearned privileges. Yes, there may be some privileges you have earned/worked for. But first think about what really got you to that privilege. Was it a supportive family? Was it your access to education? Was it positive relationships and understanding people? More questions could be asked, but dig deep into what got you to where you are now, and celebrate the hard work you’ve done, but simultaneously acknowledge your privilege. Moving forward, we must channel our goodness to help support the lives of others, to listen to one another, and to understand various perspectives.


Having a lot of privilege can feel uncomfortable, as if almost you’re being blamed for being a part of a system that you did not create. But it is not about you and me. It is about acknowledging that we are part of systems that make life easier for some than others.


“Ultimately, privilege is not a concept designed to make people feel guilty or to diminish their achievements. Instead, waking up to how you may have certain privileges is an essential first step towards being able to decisively act, in small and large ways, to use your privilege and make the systems we were born into fairer.” - Inclusion Works

Now I must note that it is simply not possible to write everything about privilege in one blog article, nor is it a subject that I will ever know everything about. This topic deserves much more than a handful of paragraphs, but I hope that a simple introduction and reflection post will help you wonderful readers to research more, to understand more, and to strive to be better people. This topic goes deep, flows through many directions and tells so many stories. When we open our lives up to diversify, learn to be open, inclusive, empathetic and understanding we open our lives to the richness of the world. I work on learning more about privilege as much as I can—checking in with myself, my past actions, and my future doings to ensure that what I do moving forward will be good, inclusive and most important of all, empathetic.


Be the Change,

G


P.S. Please leave any additional resources in the comments below so we can share our pool of knowledge and action together.

 

References & Useful Learning Resources:

Different People Defining Privilege (video)

Five Main Types of Privilege

Power Privilege & Oppression (video)

What is White Privilege

Examples of White Privilege

Environmental Racism In Canada: CBC

How To: Be an Ally of Indigenous Communities


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