Understanding Privilege as Priority

There is a focus that comes from the notions of White Supremacy that is notoriously difficult to eradicate from our thoughts, actions, values and the institutions we build from them.

When we talk about “privilege” and insist on White people recognizing it, in some ways we are doing the work of furthering notions of White Supremacy. In my work I do not use the word privilege to teach about the dynamics of oppression; it masks a huge host of cultural assumptions that do not serve true liberation from oppression.

What is a privilege? Who decides what is a privilege and what isn’t?

Privilege implies that the ways of Whiteness are, that the culture and living of it is, in fact actually better than that of other people’s, and that it is therefore a privilege to be living in accordance with the culture of Whiteness.

 Privilege gives a sense of the nebulous, it leads you to ask, “How did I receive these privileges? Where did they come from?” 

I talk about White Priority because priority makes it clear that what we’re dealing with is the result of human choice. Priority asks, “Why am I prioritized?” Understanding why you receive that prioritization clarifies how it is that you have come to be having this living, social experience.

Do White people need awareness of “White Privilege”, per se, or do White people need to be aware of Black & Brown Oppression? How are those questions different, how are those conversations different?

What I hear often is that White people know they’re treated differently; consciously, silently, there is awareness that their lives and the ways they live them in alignment with status quo cultural values receive more care than those who don’t look like them, who don’t live like them.

There may be White people reading this, saying to themselves, “But wait, I’ve always wanted to be [pick a non-White cultural group] because they have such great food/hair/clothes/music/language/are so beautiful, etc.! Being White is so boring!”

Imagine this scenario: you’ve just been stopped by the police for not making a full stop at a stoplight; the cop in your window clearly hasn’t been having a great day; would you rather be in a sari/dashiki/with cornrows/be listening to music that isn’t in English in this scenario than have Taylor Swift on blast in standard business casual?

The likely feeling of pause after reading those words is exactly the point; you had to think about it because its not about how you feel or what you like, its about how they, the cop, feels that matters in this moment, its how they feel that will determine the outcome. 

Walking with this awareness 24/7 is what its like to live in the world without having your particular cultural reality supported and prioritized for access to resources, just one of which is safety; and there are publicly funded officials to do so.

Police are paid by, and for, through a system that prioritizes Whiteness. That pause after questioning the scenario is the place in your awareness you just haven’t given words to yet, haven’t been allowed to say, for whatever reason, “Yes; this is true. However I feel about the world does not define the way it functions and it functions with more care for me than for my non-White companions.”

Social privilege is the experience of having the expressions, values, beliefs and practices of your culture protected and given prioritized access to resources like housing, employment, material resources, financial stability, health care, functional & effective education, institutional advocacy & support, and yes, safety (or its concept at least, whether or not safety is actually a functional delusional for anyone is another thought piece).

Understanding this also allows for the delving into complexity necessary to actually address the illness of social oppression. Talking about who and what gets prioritized and why points to the intersections of social identity that any of us can easily see in our lives.

Identities as managers or ceo’s counting for more than our identities as artists or philosophists, though we may be both; we know which one will help us more in the traffic stop, or at court, or in a job interview for a corporation with the access to resources to actually add to our 401k.

So rather than asking yourself about your privileges, ask yourself about your priorities; who and what is receiving yours and why?