Know Your Privileges

In his Ted talk “Why Gender Equality Is Good For Everyone – Men Included”, Michael Kimmel talks about the benefit for gender equality for everyone, the problem why it’s so hard for people (or to be more precise, most of men) to support gender equality, and strengthen the idea why supporting gender equality is a moral imperative for all of us. Delivered in an amusing manner that invited laughter from start to finish without putting light the urgency of the gender problem we have at hand, Kimmel has succeeded to give a case for gender equality that is relatable, persuasive, and fun. This is a kind of video I’d happily recommend for as many people as possible.

But for me, the most memorable thing he said in his Ted talk was when he talks about privileges and how it’s invisible to those who has it. Here’s the excerpt of the talk :

And during one of our conversations, I witnessed an interaction that changed my life forever. It was a conversation between two women. One of the women was white, and one was black. And the white woman said — this is going to sound very anachronistic now — the white woman said, “All women face the same oppression as women. All women are similarly situated in patriarchy, and therefore all women have a kind of intuitive solidarity or sisterhood.” And the black woman said, “I’m not so sure. Let me ask you a question.” So the black woman says to the white woman, “When you wake up in the morning and you look in the mirror, what do you see?” And the white woman said, “I see a woman.” And the black woman said, “You see, that’s the problem for me. Because when I wake up in the morning and I look in the mirror,” she said, “I see a black woman. To me, race is visible. But to you, race is invisible. You don’t see it.” And then she said something really startling. She said, “That’s how privilege works. Privilege is invisible to those who have it.” It is a luxury, I will say to the white people sitting in this room, not to have to think about race every split second of our lives. Privilege is invisible to those who have it.”

Listening to that was like being struck by lightning bolt. Just like Kimmel when he first heard it, I can’t help but inspecting myself to see what kind of privileges I’ve been having without realizing all these times. I realize that I’m lucky to be born as heterosexual cisgender male, I don’t have to go through the confusion of having an identity that’s different from what society expects of us and I don’t have to go through discrimination for something I have no control with, like gender and sexuality. Speaking about gender, I’m lucky to be born male, I don’t have to be shoved on the idea that I have to be “not so dominating” or “not to be too smart so men would not be scared of me” which is unfortunately still believed by many people in Indonesia. The traditional culture and norms of society also gives men an advantage to pursue a higher position in organization and company, because we are expected to be a leader and take the dominant role. Meanwhile, women have to fight through this mindset that women are not suitable to be a leader because of an unfair generalization that women are emotional, irrational, more suitable to do household chores, more likely to be mothers, or even unworthy to lead men. Unlike others, I don’t have to worry about how to flee my country in order to avoid being killed in a war. Unlike others, I don’t have to worry about how to generate income from my family once I graduate high school and could go to college instead. Turns out, I am not just a regular person, but someone who has numerous privileges that many others don’t have.

I also finally realize the problem why it’s so hard to persuade people to fight for causes like race discrimination, gender inequality, class inequality, etc. It’s hard to tell stuffs that involve the idea that not all of us play on an even ground, because more often than not we don’t even aware we are in one. Men would not understand the ordeals women have to go through that causes them to get a smaller pie in almost everything. Same thing can be said about how many upper and middle class people see low income people as someone who are lazy and deserve to be in poor condition. Those upper and middle class people don’t know that those low income people are a victim of many conditions they have encountered through their life that they have no control with. Inability to continue education, high crime rate in the neighborhood, a bad support system in family and neighborhood, stigma that damages your self esteem, these are just few examples on how barriers, big barriers, can exist for certain demographic that makes them unable to escape from low income status people have now. Sure, social mobility is indeed something possible, but many don’t seem to realize that the possibility is not same for one to another.

Understanding our privileges and how many of us don’t have them is going to be really important for us in approaching many issues in life. This world isn’t perfect and is not going to be perfect, but surely we can make it better. To not live in a constant terror of war, to not live without being discriminated and condemned for being who we are, to not live without being seen as lower than others shouldn’t be a privilege for a few, it should be owned by everyone. It’s only by realizing that we are privileged then we’d think that things need to change so changes can be triggered. Knowing your privileges is the first step for us to make a world a better place.


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