Luke Davis explores the key differences between a blessing and a privilege.
Privilege is not a term commonly used here in Australia; at least I hadn’t really come across it until about 6 months back in one of my fellow GMP writer’s articles. Ed patiently explained to me privilege once used to be called a blessing and it applies to things like jobs for the boys, black men being racially profiled by police and so on. Being a white, middle-aged male I naturally took offense to the word privilege but in the last six months, I have re-evaluated my worldview on this term.
To start with I am going to list a set of things that fall into two categories, blessings and privileges so we can sort out what the differences between the two are:
You are probably looking at this list now thinking what the heck. Firstly each side consists of polar opposites and secondly, both lists are the same. I can assure you each item in that list is vastly different, this is because I haven’t provided any context behind each item.
Blessings are things, traits or abilities that confer a benefit to the owner. They are benefits in and of themselves, they don’t negatively detract from someone else and the owner has full use of those benefits all the time. So for the blessings list (a single selection of a benefit):
- White: The ability to process sunlight more efficiently into vitamin D
- Black: Greater ability to absorb harmful UVB radiation from the sun.
- Male: We can pee standing up.
- Female: Far less likely to go bald.
- Tall: Can reach high things.
- Short: Legroom on aircraft.
None of these things inherently disadvantage someone else and while they could either convey benefits or disadvantages this is solely dependent on your perspective on whether they are good or bad things.
Privilege is using your blessing to the exclusion or disadvantage of someone without that blessing. This is the concept that tripped me up initially, I accept my own blessings and largely don’t use them against other people but I am by no means perfect and yes I have used my blessings to disadvantage others. The difference now is I understand the difference between a blessing and a privilege so when someone tells me I have a privilege I can check to see if I am indeed using my privilege. Here is the list again but for privileges:
- White: Racial profiling by police
- Black: Athletic scholarships
- Male: Jobs for the boys
- Female: Child custody
- Tall: Domineering over those who are shorter.
- Short: Bullying tall people because they are tall.
Now before I continue I am very much aware that the privileges list for white and male are very much longer than the list for black and female, if I thought those privileges were equal in size and number I wouldn’t need to write this article.
All of these things above do one of two things. They either make the assumption that someone with a blessing is inherently better than someone without or they deliberately use their blessing, or lack of a blessing in some cases, to abuse, neglect, denigrate or demonize someone without the blessing. This is the core difference between a blessing and a privilege; a blessing can be used regardless of whether someone else is there, while a privilege requires conflict, it requires someone without that privilege so it can be used against them.
Everyone has blessings, you were born with them, were provided them by your parents or you earned them through hard work and practice. You should never feel ashamed for using them, they are yours to use or not use as you see fit. Beautiful red hair—wear it with pride, talented musician—play to your heart’s content, don’t sunburn—enjoy the sun. No matter what people do or say it is rare that they can take these things away from you. Take pride in them because they are what make you unique.
Everyone can also exercise privilege, if someone pulls you up for exercising privilege look hard at yourself. Are you unfairly using a stereotype or a blessing to disadvantage someone else? If the answer is no, then pay that person no heed. On the other hand, if you are:
- Hiring a man for a job instead of a woman when the woman was more talented
- If you assume most African-Americans are criminals
- If you assume white men can’t jump
- If you make the assumption men can’t parent
- If you make the assumption women can’t do math
- If you treat tall people as stupid
- If you treat short people as overcompensating
. . . or any number of other examples of privilege, then frankly you are an ass. If you see someone exercising privilege then pull them up. Privilege hurts the fabric of our society and clumps us into groups set against each other, we are all people with different blessings, we should be celebrating these things instead of using our blessings against them.
What’s your take on what you just read? Comment below or write a response and submit to us your own point of view or reaction here at the red box, below, which links to our submissions portal.
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Photo credit: (altered) Flickr/Elias Schewel