Thursday, April 3, 2014

I am privileged to be Pale and Male.

In occasional Librarian discussions online, the topics of diversity and privilege come up. Those topics go hand in hand, but I'm only going to talk about privilege here.

I'll admit that I had a hard time understanding the concept of privilege. It always seemed to be saying that I had everything handed to me and I know that isn't the case. A few months ago, I came across this blog post that did a good job of explaining the concept in a way I could understand and agree with.

In a discussion today, I came across another way of explaining it for those that still don't get it. Privilege is not about getting things handed to you. Rather, it is about factors that are outside of your control giving you a head start in the race.

Think about being given a deck of cards at birth that sums up the total potential you have to rise up the pyramid of the social structure we live in. My analogy says that white males are given a full deck of all 52 cards. They can be anything they want to be. A black male or a white female is given a deck that has only the black royal cards. S/he can still rise up to be an Ace, but they have only half as many chances as the white male. They can never be the King of Hearts; only the King of Clubs. A black female only gets the royal cards of the clubs. She can still be an Ace, but she can only be the Ace of Clubs and not the Ace of Diamonds.

Remember that none of this is your fault. This is the way society is structured. If you apply to an Ivy League school, you're playing your Jacks. Now black females have a Jack, so they can go to Harvard, but they only have one Jack so they only have one shot at it. A white male has all four Jacks so he can give it another shot if not accepted the first time around. Was the difference their studies or their money? No. The difference was what society expects when they see that person. 

For my analogy, I only focused on race and gender, but there are many more factors that can be used to split us into social groups. Rich / Poor, Healthy / Sick, Christian / Muslim / Jewish, Fat / Thin, Athletic / Geeky. All of these groups are seen differently by society and expected to perform differently in any given setting.

You can't earn more cards. They're given at birth. What's important as you play the game of life is you realize the differences this uneven distribution produces. Know that everyone playing along with you can win, but they aren’t all playing with the same odds. The game isn't fair. 

"Everybody knows the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over 
Everybody knows the good guys lost 
Everybody knows the fight was fixed 
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich 
That's how it goes 
Everybody knows"
-- Leonard Cohen "Everybody knows"