Privilege Guilt

16/09/2012 § Leave a comment

Last night, Quin and I had a talk about white, heterosexual, male privilege. These sorts of things are always on my mind, but more so than usual this semester, as I work in a women’s studies course. We talked about how he feels when white, male privilege is pointed out to him, and he responded that, although he acknowledges that he has privilege, he refuses to accept that he must be made to feel guilty because of it. I wonder, how much of this feeling of guilt is caused by someone actually working at making you feel guilty, and how much of it is derived from simply feeling guilty when unearned advantages are pointed out? Why are we all so defensive about this?

If you are in a privileged group, it isn’t your fault. That’s why it’s privilege. On the other hand, if your privilege is pointed out to you, and you respond by saying something like “Well, that other person may be privileged, but I’m not because I’ve got black friends.” or myriad other deflections, or if you deny it outright, then there is a big problem. In my mind, the consistent denial of one’s own privilege is grounds for feeling guilty. So is an acknowledgement of privilege but failing to work toward change. As Ani says, “If you’re not trying to make something better, then as far as I can tell, you are just in the way.”

More: Big ups to all the people out there who acknowledge their privilege, accept that it’s no one else’s responsibility to make them check that privilege, and work to be a better person.

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