When a person says “check your privilege”, they often get perceived as uptight, however false that reality may be. The person on the receiving end of this phrase can feel a lot of different emotions, and even a little insulted – even though that is really not the point. Check your privilege is used to tell someone that their statement – that they believe to be true – is actually coming from a standpoint of privilege and is not open for generalization. As Gaby Hinsleff, in her article at The Guardian, rightly pointed out that when people with privileged lenses start claiming things without really understanding the limitations of their claims, articles like this one show up.
Whoever you are, if you have the option of reading this article online, you have some form of privilege. Having privilege does not mean that you haven’t struggled in your life or that you get everything handed to you in a silver platter. It simply means that your experiences are different from people with different backgrounds experiencing the same things.
If you want to learn more about privilege, power, and society – head on over to this blog.
Being informed that your statement is coming from atop a high horse is never a pleasant experience. There is no set or appropriate reaction to being told to check your privilege, but there are certain things that you can do to learn from the experience.
1. Asses your Statement
You’ve just been informed that what you said is only true for a certain set of privileged people. It is important to identify who those folks are and to whom the statement is not applicable. If someone says, “Oh, the police aren’t so bad, I just had a chat with an officer – he seemed nice!”. I would say, I’m glad you had a good chat with the police officer and I am not saying he is a bad person. What I’m saying is your one chat with one police officer does not mean the police force is amazing. The implicit bias training is nearly non-existent and the cases of police brutality even today are far too many.
Of course, the context of the conversation is important and this is just one of many examples, but, truly assessing what is said is the first step to realize how much we lean towards making biased statements in favor of privileged folks.
2. Read and Learn, Don’t Assume
I have lived in a city environment all my life and I have never had to tell someone what my caste is. In fact, I don’t even know what my caste is. For the longest time, I assumed that that is how it was for everyone. When I said something extremely ignorant that put the caste reservation system of India’s education system, a friend of mine told me I was wrong. Honestly, I was kind of agitated by it. It took me days of reading about it to understand why the system exists.
Institutionalized segregation is often looked at from a grim perspective, but that isn’t the reality with India’s reservation system. It’s a good system, albeit flawed.
Assuming the real situation on matters is how fictitious information spreads and that is bad for everyone. Take your time to read, learn, and ask questions. Educating yourself is one of the best ways to check your privilege. This brings me to the next method you can use to check your privilege. Don’t ask the person informing you to check your privilege to explain why they said so.
3. Don’t expect the person pointing it out to explain Your privilege
This might seem counter-intuitive because who better to explain why the thing being said is privileged than the one to claim that it is privileged. This is a tricky one. If you are as curious about obscure topics as I am, it would be easy to just right out ask about it. In reality though, in the context of discussions about privilege, it is not the responsibility of the person to explain. They may choose to do so, but don’t expect them to.
It takes a lot of learning and self-assessment to come to terms with your privilege; to expect someone to explain a topic so vast to you (probably in front of other people) in the short amount of time that you are talking, is genuinely asking too much of them.
You could always take the positive route and ask them to talk about it further on a separate occasion and if they agree, you’ve found another method of educating yourself.
P.S. If they do end up explaining your privilege to you in front of other people, the conversation can turn sour rather quickly.
4. Don’t start talking about the issues you have faced
In no way do I mean to say that you haven’t faced issues or that your life has not been difficult. What I want to point out is that talking about the difficulties you have faced does not take away your privilege. Talking about it is not going to make the statement made any less privileged, it just makes it look like you are getting defensive and are not open to acknowledging your privilege.
It takes a lot of patience to absorb what is being said to you, especially if it points out something like your privilege. So, all I can say is – be patient. If after assessing your statement, you find that it is coming from a point of privilege, acknowledge it. After that, you can even acknowledge how the situation would be for people that don’t experience the same privileges if you choose to.
It’s very important for you to realize that making mistakes and being wrong is completely fine and goes to show that you are human.
5. Try not to Feel Troubled and accept it as a learning experience
This is the most important step of all. It’s important to not feel attacked or troubled when someone calls out your privilege. This is important for two reasons,
First, calling out privilege needs to be a normal part of the conversation. That is a significant way we can all start to understanding and accept our privilege. Normalizing conversations about privilege, power, and dynamics is a great way to inculcate a better moral compass with the upcoming generation.
Second, it’s needed that we stay calm during the conversation to prevent it from turning hostile and move forward from it. You’d be surprised at how little effort it takes to escalate conversations from civil to hostile.
I hope you liked this article. If you want to discuss this topic any further, the comments section is open and if you would rather have a one-on-one, the contact page is right here.