“For those accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”
I don’t know who said this first, but the words keep coming to my mind as an appropriate response to posts and comments all over social media’s political spectrum. People are saying all kinds of horrible things to one another because they’re hurting, and in many cases they’re hurting because they’ve lost some kind of privilege and they resent it. It got me to thinking about what kinds of privilege we – various ones of us – have become accustomed to. Here’s a quick checklist:
- White privilege. This is universally apparent to people of color but often elusive to white people themselves. Ourselves. Some white people like to claim being “color blind” and to not notice color. This has no impact on privilege. Others readily make the leap from embracing white privilege to claiming white supremacy. (As an anthropologist, I could go on for pages and pages about the irrelevance of “race” to the human genome although not to the human experience. But that’s not what this post is about.)
- Male privilege. This has been eroding away for decades. Is it any wonder many men are all too ready to follow the lead of a swaggering “alpha” male who exemplifies all the benefits of privilege they feel they’ve lost? A lot of women – perhaps fearful of being labeled a feminazi – still believe in male privilege, too, identifying with the sexy helpmate image the males assign them and seeking out the most swaggering domineering males they can find. It makes them feel protected or something.
- Christian privilege. Suddenly there are Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists openly practicing their faith, openly not being Christian. Christians are horrified. Isn’t America “supposed” to be a Christian nation?
- Marketplace privilege. Protected industries like oil or coal or manufacturing fall victim to “green” industries, robots, and offshoring, and people whose jobs and family history are tied to those industries feel robbed. They still work hard or are willing to if given the chance. They want to know who took their jobs, the jobs they thought they were entitled to.
As privilege erodes, those who have enjoyed the benefits of privilege feel deprived, hard-done-by, oppressed. Worse than that, though, is when people tell you you’re in one or more privileged category – white Christian male working in the oil patch, for example – and your life still sucks. These are Trump’s people. They want the privilege they were promised but never got. They want to “Make America Great Again”. Like it never was for them.