What is privilege?

The 28th of November 2019, I created and hosted a workshop called « Acknowledging privilege » which aimed to sensitize people to the notions of prejudice and discrimination. During the workshop, someone asked me what was my definition of privilege. It was kind of hard to answer right away. So I decided to write an article solely about this fundamental question.

What is privilege to me?

I will mostly talk in this article about white privilege though privilege is such a various notion. Privilege to me is the ability to have free mental space. For example there is a lot questions that I have to ask myself as a black woman that white women or white mens do not have to ask themselves. For example when I am rejected for a job I ask myself: Am I rejected for this job because they were looking for someone with more experience or because they would rather not hire a black person? Am I having prejudice myself for thinking that? But maybe it’s true. But even if it were true, what can I do about it? I have no proof. Maybe I’m imagining all of this. Even if I had proof that they discriminated me, why would it matter? I would not want to work in such close-minded environment. What do I do then?

This list of questions can be applied to a variety of topics : searching for an appartment, applying for a scholarship, a college degree… The list goes on and on. In a day, all this time I spend asking me those questions is a time not used for being carefree, for thinking about my future. Basically thinking about all the things that should matter to me.

No one is forcing me to think about any of those things. I’m doing that to myself. And it is even worse because at the end I’m blaming myself for being so anxious even if in the end it’s not my fault. It is because even though I would like to approach the world as just any other human being, I am reminded of my blackness. I am reminded by the world around me of the fact that I am considered « different ». It can happen with small things such as not finding a hairdresser close to where I live that know how to deal with my hair. When I have to take the train for 2 hours to go to a biggest city just to get a hair appointment I am reminded that I am not considered as « normal ». « Normal people », people deemed worthy have hair that hairdressers were learned how to style at Hairdressing School. Coarse, curly hair are not considered worthy of being taught at german or french hairdressing schools. It is the amount of those tiny things that grow into making a person more privileged than others.

Privilege is not only not being discriminated against when looking for a job or an appartment. It is also not worry about little things such as finding a hairdresser that knows how to care about your hair, always restricting yourself from not speaking too loud because you do not want people to generalize and say all black people are loud. It is consistly thinking and putting yourself into question: Am I asking too much? Is it too much to ask to not worry about whether or not this person will like me for who I am and not only because he or she has visited Africa and wants to know more about African culture even though I was born and raised in France and hence know few things about african culture?

We all have privilege. For example, I have privilege because I am able to pursue a higher education or because I am able to travel. Privilege is not something to be ashamed of. It only become negative when you refuse to see it, when you refuse to see that other people are less privileged then you are and hence do not want to give them more support or acknowledge how hard they worked to be at the same position you are without putting as much effort as they did to get here.

Think about all the privilege that you have and take care of yourself.

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