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Lessons learned from lack of privilege

May 6, 2010

This post is something different.

Offline, I’ve been doing some administrative work with an organization that I am part of. Part of our administrative work involves working with the Powers That Be. In the past, our organization has had a shaky relationship with the Powers That Be. Both sides are at fault in many ways…both sides have done something to tick off the other.

Yet, what I am finding is that instead of trying to rise up beyond that, people seem content to be uncoopeerative, unsupportive, and passive aggressive.

So, now, the Powers That Be have come to view the organization as uncooperative and unsupportive. Naturally, as a result, they don’t want to support us since they feel (and we have in many ways been giving them the evidence they need) we won’t cooperate back.

It’s tragic. But what seems most apparent to me is how some of the others from my organization don’t seem to get that responding with more orneriness will not improve things.

…what I’ve come to realize though is this: sometimes, people don’t need to learn that lesson. And so, when they do need to learn that lesson (and well), they don’t.

I think it’s a matter of privilege and lack of privilege.

When you have privilege, then being ‘good’ is good enough. Being ‘on time’ is good enough. Heck, being a little late is good enough, because you can take advantage of the benefit of the doubt. Because you have privilege, if you are slighted (especially if the slight is genuine, but many times even if it isn’t), you can become indignant and angry and get your way.

But that only really works if you have privilege.

And what if you don’t?

If you don’t have privilege, you don’t have leverage. Then, being good is not good enough, because it will be seen instead as “average”. As “uncompetitive.” as “unambitious.” Being on-time isn’t good enough, because you’re not a “go getter.” Being late certainly isn’t good enough, because now even the letter of the law can be used against you without impunity. Without privilege, there is no benefit. Only doubt. And even if you have a clear case of slight against you, where you should truly and rightfully be justified in anger, without privilege, you are just uppity and wild.

I have tried to explain the need for others in my organization to be more than “good,” “on time,” (or even worse, late…even once!) and they have resisted. They have brought up what the Powers That Be have done…and they have brought up how They should be gracious for the work that we have done.

At some level, I want to sympathize. I don’t want to seem like a crony of the Powers That Be, because I know that I am not and cannot be on that side. Nevertheless, I cannot impress upon them that however much I think they are in that instance right, to fight would only secure a place as dead right. A pedestrian has right of way, sure. But being right in many cases will lead to being dead right.

It seems so apparent to me, and I wonder why I cannot convince the others to change their action…it has only been recent that I’ve realized why it seems apparent to me but not the others.

It is a difference in upbringing.

Not in the particulars, of course. Rather, in the generics. Some people are raised — for whatever reason (because there are many) in lack of privilege. We learn quickly that we must be twice as good, twice as fast (and early), and do it all with a smile, showing no sign nor strain of the effort that we put in…and then we will be lucky to win table scraps. We learn that to do otherwise — even when we have cause to be angry — will lead to a violent lashback at us (which we might decide is more important than anything else or we might not.)

On the other hand, some people are raised in privilege. Being twice as good isn’t critical. “On time” is set by the privileged, so there is no need to be early. In fact, with some benefit of the doubt, fudging something here or there…being a little late here or there…can be no problem.

The issue is when those raised in privilege fail to realize that, in whatever station, for whatever reason, they no longer have the privilege they were accustomed to, and if they do not adapt, they will be stomped.

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4 Comments
  1. FireTag permalink

    Or, as noted in Winnie the Pooh, “It is unwise to say ‘ahah” to one of the fiercer animals in the forest.”

  2. I never realised how privileged I was as a Christian white male until I came out as gay and an atheist. I think that until a person experiences what it is like to be a minority and the corresponding lack of privilege, they’re mostly blind to their own privilege.

    Fortunately or unfortunately, I’m not a visible minority, so I still retain a lot of my privilege, and honestly, it makes me feel guilty sometimes to know that just for being white and male, I get unfair advantages in our society. I’m just not sure what to do about it.

  3. FireTag: Winnie the Pooh had quite the bit of wisdom, actually…

    Craig: sorry for the delay to approve comments. For some reason, my blog thinks you’re a spammer. Dunno why.

    I completely agree though. One thing I’ve been kinda playing around with in my head is…maybe everyone needs to have some kind of experience being a minority (in some way, shape or fashion) in order to progress past a certain point in terms of compassion, sympathy, empathy, etc.,

  4. FireTag permalink

    And I think we all do get such experiences, in one parallel universe or another, if not in this life. Quite literally. No pain, no gain.

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