Recognising and Accepting Privilege
Privilege is a very sensitive issue. Nobody likes to be confronted with their privilege. We all like to think we have what we have due to our hard work and diligence. Attributing our achievements to a form of advantage we have been bequeathed at birth appears like someone is taking something off these achievements. Whenever we are confronted with our privilege, our first instincts are to deny it. To prove that advantage did not contribute to our achievements. To explain the many challenges, we have gone through. We get defensive. Like my Nigerian people will say, we feel the urge to ‘shalaye’.
But what exactly is Privilege.
Privilege can simply be defined as advantages that are unearned and socially conferred to a particular group of people. It is similar to getting VIP membership benefits in a club, only this time, you are not paying any extra membership dues. Privilege encompasses structural and systemic advantages that work for the benefit of the members of the social group whether they are consciously aware of it or not. There are different types of privilege; there’s White privilege, Wealth Privilege, Male Privilege, Light-skin Privilege, Religion Privilege, Able-bodied privilege…you name it. For this series, I will be focusing on just 4 of these types.
1.The Wealth Privilege Aka ‘Omo Butty’ Privilege 😊. If you grew up in Nigeria, you have probably heard the word Omo Butty, most likely together with Omo Paki, lol. These phrases in Nigeria make up the wealth classification system. Wealth Privilege comprises the advantages you get from being born into a wealthy family. This can be in terms of the quality of education you get, the opportunities you are exposed to, financial leverage, and the readily available networks that you have by virtue of being born into a wealthy family.
2. Male Privilege: This describes the advantages men get simply because of their gender. This is one is a really big thing in the world we live in because we live in a largely patriarchal society. Male privilege shows itself in the gender pay gap. It is why concepts like ‘glass ceiling’ exist for women. It is why as at 2019, only 29% of senior management roles are held by women. Male privilege fosters gender inequality and its many ills.
3.White Privilege: We have heard a lot about this lately given the current racial climate in America. One very accurate and simplified description I found online is that white privilege does not mean you have not gone through certain challenges, it just means your skin colour has not been a contributory factor to those challenges. To be white and claim you have not experienced any form of privilege based on your race, is to be ignorant to the many challenges that black people face, and the many systemic structures in place that put black people at an advantage in the society.
4.Light-skin privilege: I struggled with including this because it is not something that is discussed often. Light skin privilege births colorism and I have read and heard many instances of the discrimination this brings. It stems from the beauty standards that the society seem to live by. Light-skin privilege funds the bleaching industry. It is very easy to deny its existence, or downplay its effects, but one thing I have been learning lately is that something not being my reality does not erase its existence.
So, to wrap it all up, when next somebody confronts you, or even subtly mentions your privilege, resist the urge to shalaye i.e don’t get defensive. Even if it is just for a second, reflect on the other person’s point of view. Understand that having a privilege does not necessarily make you a bad person. It is what you do about this privilege that is a more accurate reflection of your character.
PS: Watch out for the remaining posts on these series. I am excited to go a little deeper on these different types of privilege and their many effects on the society.