Last week I started a bit of flap by advocating for a personnel directory within a business I am associated with. It became clear – there won’t soon be a change of policy. It came down to restricting contact information to protect women who had experienced stalkers or other sexual harassment – a very high value. For me, an equally high value is open communication channels within an institution that tends toward the hierarchical. So far, we have not found a balance between individual and systemic “rights.” In some ways, the “rights” lens keeps us from managing difficult situations. This places decisions within the limits of an either/or choice.
What I found most interesting was a comment that suggested my concern for community conversation was received as being against women’s protection and thus revealed a privileged position.
I don’t think there is any question that I carry both conscious and unconscious privilege wherever I go. The obvious ones are being white and male. They are well-attested. This leads me to wonder about my accusations of privilege directed toward others.
I can account for at least three different faces of privilege that may call that popular term into question. Its current use is as a variant on original sin supposedly residing within each of us. Looked at more carefully, it is not so much a matter of privilege qua privilege, but the contesting of one right against another. The result is that whoever gets the blame of “privilege” in first has the advantage. It cannot be countered in the same conversation wherein it arose.
In some areas, I have particularly “activated privilege” I can wield to my benefit as well as intentionally use for another’s benefit. This is quite conscious and keeps privilege alive as a category deemed helpful when so used. There are, of course, still some unconscious uses of it in the simple act of helping.
In other areas, I have “envious privilege” and will raise it to foster and resist the ways I see others applying their privilege against my “right.” To recognize another’s privilege is to give up what opportunity I have to simply raise questions or take a more direct action. I have to work through my reactive nature before finding a helpful act to clarify the issue beyond using “privilege” as a privileged word.
In yet other areas, the mystery of “humbled privilege” addresses the wrinkles of life without the support of this claim of authority. In a moment, a larger perspective is opened to reveal a spacious, longer-termed educational tack available in the storms of life. As long as I engage privilege as a point of judgment, I am constrained to its boundaries.
No matter how I schematize Privilege, may my original privilege find the mercy it needs to get unstuck from its beneficial blindness.