What is privilege?

Kennisa Ragland, Contributing Writer

“If your ancestors came to the United States by force, take one step back.” “If you get time off for your religious holidays, take one step forward.” “If you’ve ever felt unsafe because of your sexual orientation, take one step back.” These are a few of the emotional statements read during an activity called the “Privilege Walk.” The Privilege Walk is an exercise aiming to provoke an individual’s self-reflection, it’s meant to help people better understand what privilege truly is.

I participated in the walk at a workshop last week hosted by the LEAD program. I, like many of my peers, had my own preconceived definition of privilege, but after engaging in the walk I was forced to literally take a step back and re-realize what it means.

What exactly is privilege?

After looking at a few universal definitions, most people, including myself, would come to the same conclusion that privilege is a special right, advantage or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people. The Privilege Walk, however, is a much more effective way of grasping what privilege is in a self-applicable manner.

Being able to write this piece is a privilege. I am able to voice my opinion freely without fear of punishment or persecution. You are able to read it freely because news is available to us in this country. Ask people in another nation and they might look at both of those abilities as anomalies. I am able to get an education in a time where 62 million girls across the world can’t. I can buy new clothes whenever I want to. My mom can buy those clothes for me whenever she wants to. I had a book available to me in my home at every point in my life. My family went on vacations. I was never embarrassed as a kid about what I was wearing. 

Privilege is not just a brand new 2015 BMW; it’s the legs that allow you to walk. It’s not just the ability to achieve a 4.0; it’s the fact that you’re able to read and write.

Privilege is not just about having the latest iPhone or a 3-story house; it’s being able to pay the bills on time. Privilege is not just knowing both of your parents; it’s both of those parents being alive. Privilege is unending. 

Too often we forget the simple things that make up our individual and collective privilege. It is imperative that we remain as aware as we can. Take an introspective step back or forward and realize that what you have and what you are able to do is not afforded to everyone. Realize that privilege is not just the obvious and it does not only include what is easily identified. It is endless. You will never know all of your privilege because you will never know all the unprivileged.