Letter: A perspective on privilege from a cis, white, low-income student

Guest Author

College is tough when you’re a low-income student. I’ve had to balance the stresses of my classes with the stress of making sure I had food for the week. It sucks and I know it.

The uproar surrounding politics has brought up a concept that you likely haven’t had fully explained: privilege. It may seem foreign now, but understanding this concept is key to becoming an active and compassionate member of society. Being from a low-income background puts you in a unique position to do that.

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Even if your shoes aren’t new, people won’t look at you and assume you’re disadvantaged. That itself is a type of privilege. People who have darker skin, wear religious or cultural clothing, or don’t identify with their biological sex don’t have that anonymity. Andrew Hacker stated in his book “Two Nations,” “America is inherently a ‘white’ country: in character, in structure, and in culture.” We don’t notice because it feels normal in our society. That ability to feel like the cultural norm is the definition of privilege. It doesn’t negate our own struggles, but recognizing it can help us understand others’ struggles. Each life is a web of privilege and struggle based on income, race, gender, etc.

Most of us grew up thinking that seeing people as the same or being “colorblind” was the right thing to do. By doing this we tend to cast everyone as a standard. We strip people of their identities and ignore their struggles. I’m bisexual. Because of bullying, I repressed this part of myself until college when I fell for one of my female classmates. She didn’t change my life from the outside much. A straight person can easily look at me and assume that I’m straight. However that puts me in a strange position. I feel like I can talk about past boyfriends but not past girlfriends. I don’t feel like I can be who I am. Granted, like I was saying about income, being bisexual has the advantage of anonymity. I won’t pretend to understand what it’s like to be black or Muslim or transgender. I will say that casting people as “society’s normal” does lead to repression of self.

So now we understand that privilege is the ability to be assumed as part of the mainstream or “normal”. We’ve also seen that true equality can only come when we release that concept of a societal normal and accept people as who they are. Now what do we do? Well, this is college! We educate ourselves. Read books and blogs, add influential figures from other demographics to your news feed. Understand that there are other perspectives that are worth your time, but you’re in a position where you won’t see them unless you look. Remember that your privilege might still get in the way of understanding people, but never let discomfort or the role that society has cast you in stop you from doing the right thing. Although it may feel uncomfortable use your privilege against the society that bestowed it upon you for the sake of the people that have been ignored and repressed.

M. Webster
Junior, Equine Sciences

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