Both privilege and oppression shape the way you interact with the world or, more accurately, how the world interacts with you.
But a curious (and troublesome) thing about privilege is that a privileged person often cannot see what the effects of their privileges are as they go about their lives.
However, someone who experiences the flip side to the coin can usually point out precise examples of how they are treated in a different, oppressive way.
🔔 Poll time
When we are brought up with the absence of a struggle or consequence of disadvantage, we don’t see what that absence is. We see ourselves as normative and neutral to oppression.
🤔 If you’re able-bodied, you may not consider how a workplace was specifically built for bodies like yours, you just see how it doesn’t suit disabled people.
🤔 If you’re straight, you may not consider how straightness is made standard in romance, parenting and law to make your life and sexuality extra comfortable and ‘normal’. You just see that your gay or bisexual friends have more to go through.
Having close friends and family members without a privilege that you have can help you build empathy about their lived experience. But this often isn’t enough to adequately change an unlevel playing field. You must deliberately unpack your privileges.
Scholar and activist Peggy McIntosh wrote an important essay in 1989 called Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.
She explained how she realised that, although men would often acknowledge that women were disadvantaged, they would not see how men had privilege that upheld this very oppression.
This was a blocker to men:
⛔ extending their privileges to lift up women
⛔ helping to change a culture that favoured them — since they weren’t conscious of how they were favoured, they couldn’t challenge things that made the world a boys’ club
(30+ years on, the conversation and available resources about gender equality and male privilege have progressed. Many men are pros in understanding gender privilege and there are even self-styled male feminists!)
GIF by @studioka.
But McIntosh’s essay wasn’t about men.
It was about how she, a white person, had come to terms with the fact that she oppressed BIPOC when she lived the daily effects of white privilege.
With 26 examples, she illustrated how the effects of her privilege existed in tension with the effects of their oppression.
Some were privileges she wanted everyone to have:
💎 never having to speak on behalf of her race
💎 able to speak critically about her government without being judged as an outsider
…and some seemed like subconscious free passes to be ignorant or even destructive:
💎 being taught her own race/ancestors were the sole creators of modern civilisation
💎 oblivious to the cultures and languages of people of colour without penalty
Importantly, she noted how she could forget or ignore every one of these privileges before she clarified them in the essay. The invisible knapsack needed to be unpacked.
But could McIntosh write out these autobiographical privileges off the cuff just with some reflection? How had she really made the invisible visible?
🎧 Watch this (3:15)
Watch Kenya Bundy’s viral ‘Check Your Privilege’ TikTok challenge interwoven with her own thoughts about the challenge by GMA.
💡 Points that gave us pause
⏯️ The examples of the daily effects of oppression resonate with people they’ve happened to and people that have the light-bulb moment that they are insulated from those experiences due to their privilege
⏯️ Bundy says that some of the effects of oppression are challenged as silly or a misinterpretation. But they are only ludicrous to people that haven’t experienced them.
⏯️ Seek out deeper understanding about how daily life can be different owing to privilege or the effects of oppression. A great place to start is online or choosing media to understand different experiences.
⏯️ When you know you have a privilege, use it to “uplift your neighbour”.
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