Automatic privilege and other invisible benefits

HERE'S TO US: One person's idea of privilege may not be another's.
HERE'S TO US: One person's idea of privilege may not be another's. isaxar

PRIVILEGES are funny things. Most of us think we have a few, but not many. We tend to think it's all about silver spoons and having rich parents and owning property before the boom.

In fact we will go out of our way to demonstrate how few we had by issuing phrases like "when I was a boy/girl we had to walk four miles to school with no shoes" or on the flip side, "you old people don't know how hard it is the buy a house/get a job/etc these days".

It's a kind of privilege competition, and those who believe they have the least seem to think they are the winners, or losers as the case may be.

But there's an element to what I'll refer to as privilege blindness that ironically, only the privileged seem to suffer from.

Usually, as you grow up and start to develop empathy, you become more aware of these automatic privileges. You know, the ones you initially take for granted like being born in Australia. That's a fairly healthy start to enjoying a privileged existence. Then, in my case, there's being white in Australia. That one opens up a door so huge that those who enter it have the luxury of never ever acknowledging its benefits.

And while I fall short of the perfect trifecta, in not being male, two out of those three ain't a bad start to a privileged existence.

Then you add your own environmental circumstances.

Did you grow up in a reasonably happy family? Amazing privilege. A warm house? Booyah.

Did you get a good education? Keep 'em coming...

What about the fact you grew up being able to walk unassisted, can see properly or have great sporting prowess (it's Australia, remember).

The list is endless really. Good food, entertainment, travel - excellent work.

The fact I'm sitting here writing a column on privilege is also not lost. In fact having a job where you meet lots of different people and sometimes help them, or enlighten and entertainment them is pretty good going when it comes to eking out an existence.

But I was lucky. Despite having a limited education by today's standards and being a sole parent at 22, I got a casual job in the classifieds (remember those) department of a newspaper.

Luck maybe, but my white face and reasonable grasp of English definitely helped.

Then after years of on-the-job training and taking opportunities that came along, the journey went along a path I had no idea was possible (and still feels impossible some days).

Sure it helps to possess certain innate qualities and abilities as you travel those roads but again, these can also be honed and presented as a result of privilege.

Trying to obtain a university degree while working two jobs would not be easy but there's a certain privilege with being able to even do that, while those whose parents paid for their university education so they could concentrate on their studies is a privilege many students can only dream of.

Or getting a leg up financially through an inheritance or having your parents able to assist you. Or walking away from a marriage with enough assets to start again.

Or having a partner who provides you with freedom to pursue your dreams. Or winning a chunk of cash in Lotto (you have to be able to afford to buy a ticket and be extremely lucky).

They are all privileges but do we acknowledge that in our pathway to our success?

It's great to be a good role model and inspire others about how well you did, but quite often there's a lot more at play than just hard work, or making astute decisions.

The opportunities to do that work or make those impressive choices, don't come automatically to everyone.

Maybe acknowledge this the next time you talk about how hard you had it or continue to describe yourself as self-made, by going through a quick, basic check list and see how you really fare when it come to privileges before you even set to work on your chosen path.

You might be surprised how well-off you really are.


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