Privilege as a word is most used and quoted everywhere but very few really understand the weight of the same. Privilege is earned, unearned, inherited, blessed, or otherwise. It is an advantage available to one person or group, that isn’t available to the other person or groups.
Privilege is relative and anyone can have it, and most often everyone has some of it. Fighting for an Independent India our freedom fighters fought for the privilege of freedom. People living in cities have the privilege of modern amenities. People in rural India have the the privilege of fresh air and greenery. In the recent Mumbai rains the privilege of Mumbai came out strongly in terms of attention that it garnered for one day of rain, as opposed to Assam where rains have been playing havoc for a fortnight with hundreds of villages underwater, and people without basic sustenance. It is this privilege which subtly tells you that you are less worthy than others, but unfortunately can be felt only by the underprivileged. Unfortunately, our societies have established systems that recognize some human beings as more valuable than others.
Now being privileged doesn’t make you a bad person, but it makes it harder for you to understand the daily complexities and challenges of navigating life with less privilege. For eg. If you have constantly been mistreated by the police because you belong to a religious group (identity based privilege), it can be challenging to understand the constant fear that each of them go through when they see the police.
Privilege does not make any one better than anyone else. But if we intentionally set aside some of our privilege, it can yield a wealth of unexpected insights. To understand the same at a practical level, we need to take our self out of the comfort zone and the associated privilege. For e.g. we all take being literate, having reasonably normal health and access to clean drinking water as a hygiene factor. By putting ourselves in the shoes of a person who can’t read, person who is suffering from chronic illness and a woman who has to walk 12 kms to get drinking water can make us understand education, health and water in different perspectives.
When we take privilege for granted we create a dominant group identity, which often is the source of hidden privilege. However, that privilege may not occur as hurtful behaviour, it may simply occur as a presumption of normalcy. It can be invisible and when we experience its benefits, we often believe we have earned them. We can easily believe that anybody can have access to the same privileges if ‘they work hard and are smart enough,’ or employ some similar mental algorithm. That lack of awareness can easily blind us from seeing the presence of power and privilege, even when it so obvious to others around us.
I often have men complaining to me in my ‘bias sessions’ that there is too much focus on gender diversity. There is often a smirk in the audience of predominantly men who can-not understand the reason for the extra attention. Flip this question to the women and they will have a different perspective to share only experienced by them and not necessarily in the knowledge of men. E.g. the freedom to move around alone as a woman in the night, the unconscious stereotyping that they come across due to maternity, travel and flexi timings is the privilege that they don’t get being a woman.
Collectively we can move the needle if we temporarily leave aside your own interpretations in order to understand other interpretations. Identify our own privilege and use it for good wherever we see bias. Also, expand our empathy and understanding of people, whose lives are different from our own.