Leibee: Learn to put your privilege to work

Katrina Leibee

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

There’s a term we throw around that we haven’t defined well enough yet, or maybe we just don’t recognize it very often — privilege. Every single one of us has privilege. There are walks of life where we have the advantage, certain disadvantages that we are immune to and things we get to do for no reason, other than being born in the body you were born in.

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We spend a lot of time sitting on our mountains of privilege with our noses pointed upward, shouting about the things other people should or shouldn’t be doing.

I don’t think privilege has to be a bad thing, though. We just have to make it work, rather than let it work for us. We can use white privilege, gender privilege and economic privilege to the benefit of those that were not born with this privilege. 

There are a million TED Talks on this topic and many articles and studies on how we should recognize our privilege. But just recognizing it doesn’t change much — it’s about taking it and using your position of power to help those that were not born into the same position as you.

I have the opportunity to speak to this campus every week through my columns. There are thousands of students, faculty and members of the community that read this publication, and somehow, I am in the position of being able to speak my truth and discuss what I want every week. I have a platform to make change, and I recognize it.

I recognize this privilege, and I want to use it for people that don’t have it.

Not everyone gets to go to college or has a platform to speak on, so I will use my own platform to speak on issues that don’t directly affect me. I will use it to advocate for others that need a voice speaking on behalf of them. I will use it for more than just myself.

That is making my privilege work, rather than sitting in my position, ranting on things that only affect me and my direct contacts.

White people can use the positions and institutions they infinitely have the advantage in to advocate for people of color and bring them into spaces they might be left out of.

Men have the privilege of being heard and respected, at least more than woman. They can use this privilege to educate other men on the way they talk to and treat women. It shouldn’t take men telling each other to respect women for that to happen, but this is a way they can use their privilege rather than staying silent.

Harvard Business Review discussed this topic, saying the first step in recognizing your ordinary privilege is to pinpoint the identities you think about the least.

White people can use the positions and institutions they infinitely have the advantage in to advocate for people of color and bring them into spaces they might be left out of. They were born with a privilege, so they should use it to the benefit of those who were not.

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It’s not to say that minority groups and underprivileged individuals should be the charity case of those who are privileged — that is not the case at all. The truth of the matter is that privilege is not good for anything except to be dispersed to those that are not given it because of the body or the family they were born into.

Privilege is also getting to splurge on things you want to buy. It’s being able to drive yourself to work or school rather than taking public transportation. It’s getting to go to college. It’s living in the United States, where our rights and quality of life are far beyond those of many other countries.

Ignoring politics is a privilege. It means you are white enough, man enough, wealthy enough or healthy enough to not have to worry about the politics and laws that might take away your rights. It means you were born and placed at the top of a mountain most people have to climb their whole lives.

If you have a platform, a voice, an education, that’s privilege — don’t waste it.

Katrina Leibee can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @KatrinaLeibee.