Check your privilege.
Acknowledgement of privilege is one of the most important if not the most effective way to combat oppression. Yet sometimes we suffer from too much self-empathy, and it can be hard to acknowledge just exactly how much privilege we benefit from. We urge to express our feelings during various forms of suffering we may experience, but this can be extremely insensitive to those around us whose suffering can dwarf our own. It’s a common phenomenon in educated communities, and especially in persons with good emotional communication skills. Currently, there exists few mechanisms to work around these problems.
White males, among others, are often told to check their privilege. But how?
In integrated, highly ethnically diverse activist communities like what we see in Portland, OR, there can be combative issues surrounding various levels of privilege and oppression. This can lead to bitter disputes during callouts, progressive stacks, and even in romantic relationships, particularly when dating someone of a different gender.
From my observations, there is a hint of competitiveness when surrounding privilege and oppression. A need to call out others to check their privilege persists because there is resistance; as it is well noted, privilege is invisible to those with a high amount of it. In an unjust and oppressive world no one wants to see themselves enjoying the benefits reaped from the suffering of others.
Guilt is equally unproductive. Acting within such an emotion, effort is out of obligation, not love. In extreme cases, such self-hatred can lead to denial, defensiveness, and spur greater oppressive behavior.
The Privilege Number
So, to make things easier, I have developed a privilege calculator that will create a “privilege number.” This is a number from 0-100; 100 represents total and complete privilege, and 0 represents totalitarian oppression.
The base number is calculated by race, gender, sex, trans status, sexual orientation, income, physicality, mental state, family background, ableness, and residence.
So what does the number itself mean? The privilege number is a ranking, a numerical manifestation of oppression. Values are based off historical colonialism, patriarchy, white supremacy, and global capitalist oppression, and how they affected the various nonwhite races, nonmale genders, nonstraight sexualities, nonwealthy classes, and the nonabled.
What do I do with my privilege number?
It allows us to treat others with the sympathy that they deserve, and to the extent that they deserve it. It will aid in decolonizing our own patriarchal mentalities and stop us from oppressing lower numbers.
When meeting someone with a lower privilege number, you know to what degree to listen to their opinions on matters of race, gender, etc. Lower numbered persons have different perspectives, many times more accurate on matters of oppression than someone with a higher number because they live them everyday.
But by far the greatest value in the privilege number is we no longer need to assume activist street cred; it allows us to make room for those who obviously know what they are talking about.
Callouts will become much simpler; admission of problems will be as easy as comparing numbers. Once revealed, a high number being called out can simply concede that there is a problem that is to be addressed. Confrontation will be minimized because defensiveness will have no place once rank is established.
Dating someone outside your privilege number range requires specific sensitivities; seeking out those of an exceptionally lower number for the exotic experience is not an appropriate way to utilize the privilege number, nor is dating someone of a similar range because of increased chances of compatibility; such actions can be very sexist and racist.
Rather it should be used as a way to know when to listen to people and absorb their opinions as your own.
Step up, Step Back
I want to see a world of highly framed perspective. We know we are not equal as humans. We know the work that needs to be done. A solid, concrete number will tangibly outcry the colorblind mentality, it will remove heads from the sand.
Get your friends a privilege number. Challenge elected and community leaders on their privilege number when debating issues of gentrification or police brutality. Do not allow those with high numbers to dominate conversations, organizations, or social groups.
If born with a high privilege number, make space for people with lower numbers. Learn their opinions, and share them with others of similarly high privileged numbers. Remember: if you have a high privilege number, you are an oppressor.
Can my privilege number change?
Because privilege is mainly a concept of gained benefits that are not earned, successes in life can largely be linked back to privilege. With this being said, the privilege number is built as a static concept. Small variances and life changes are unimportant, as with all statistical ideas, this is an educated estimate meant as a guide in social circles, work environments, and activist communities.