Talking About Privilege Should Be Uncomfortable — But It’s Rewarding for My Family
By Amanda Jette Knox
Photo © Korneevamaha/Twenty20
Jun 22, 2020
I remember the first time the idea of privilege was explained to me. I didn’t take it well.
I was a young married mom in the suburbs, and while I am of both British and Anishinaabe heritage, my skin is fair. I walk through life with white privilege, and my friend, a Black single mother in the United States, was trying to point this out in an online discussion.
To 20-something me, it sounded like she was negating my struggles. Didn’t she know what I had been through? I was horrifically bullied. I had survived a drug and alcohol addiction. I lived in shelters as a teenager. I got pregnant at 19. I still hadn’t finished high school. My life had been far from easy and I had worked hard to get where I was in that moment.
Privilege exists at all times, even during a global pandemic. Do you have pandemic privilege? Read about it here.
“I’m not saying you’ve had it easy,” my friend explained. “I’m just saying you don’t have to deal with being discriminated against for the colour of your skin on top of everything else.”
Shame swallowed me. She wasn’t wrong, but I felt so attacked, so defensive, that I awkwardly avoided further conversations about it for a long time.
Privilege Can Be Uncomfortable to Talk About
Privilege is an uncomfortable reality in our society. Those of us with more of it don’t always like to have it pointed out. It can seem invalidating, in a way, to be told that we’ve had it easier than someone else. It also blows apart the idea that capitalism provides equal opportunity to everyone.
"People with the least amount of privilege must work much harder for fewer opportunities."
The truth is, it appears to me those with fairer skin, thinner bodies, more able bodies and wealthier families are more likely to receive better education and greater career prospects. This means they can choose where they live and what they do for a living with more ease, passing those perks on to their own children.
Privilege is a system that works well for those who have it and firmly against those who don’t. People with the least amount of privilege must work much harder for fewer opportunities.
There's a definite intersection of racism and privilege — read about how one mother parents while Black and discusses racism with her kids here.
Realizing the Importance of Discussing Privilege
I didn’t fully recognize the importance of privilege until I lost some. In 2015, my partner came out as a trans woman. For the eighteen years we had been married, I had known her as my husband. The world saw our family as an average one: a mom, a dad and three children. That was now changing. We were the same family on the same street, but now we lived outwardly as a family with two mothers. How would our traditionally conservative Ottawa suburb handle that?
As it turns out, rather well. Our neighbours were incredibly supportive, and my wife’s transition within our community went rather smoothly. But I did notice some differences. When we renewed our vows for our 20th wedding anniversary, there were some notable family absences.
"When we renewed our vows for our 20th wedding anniversary, there were some notable family absences."
As an author with a large online presence, I regularly get hate about being queer or having trans family members (not only is my partner trans, but one of our children is non-binary).
At times, it’s more subtle. Conversations with strangers can swerve into awkward territory when they assume I have a husband. “My wife, actually,” I’ll say. There is often a brief pause as they process that information. In that moment, I’m holding my breath, waiting for even a hint of disapproval. Will their tone change? Will they become more distant? Not usually. But things do occasionally take a turn, and I realize that I’m no longer seen as their equal. In their eyes, I am lesser.
When Amanda's wife came out as trans, the suburban community they live in threw them a party. Read about the unexpected party here.
I don’t have straight privilege
I never have – I’m not straight – but for years, I appeared as though I could be, married to someone the world saw as a man. That provided me a level of safety and acceptance I will never have again. Privilege is a multi-layered system. My wife, a trans woman, deals with more discrimination than I do: not only is she judged for who she loves, but who she is. Trans people face some of the highest levels of discrimination in the world. Trans people of colour face even more than their white counterparts.
"My wife, a trans woman, deals with more discrimination than I do: not only is she judged for who she loves, but who she is."
Losing some privilege opened my eyes to the importance of teaching our children about it while they’re young. We now discuss racial oppression more regularly, watching documentaries and movies that explain the experiences of people of colour far better than I ever could. We learn about different cultures and religions, and how quickly ignorance can lead to judgment. We talk about ways we can use our own privilege to help others, and how this is a critical part of being a decent human being.
Societal Disadvantages Are Real — Yes, Even If You Don't Experience Them
The friend who taught me about white privilege passed away from cancer not long ago. She died in a country that provides less care to those who can’t afford to pay for it, and in a society that valued her life less than a white person’s. I will never forget her teachings.
"We often don’t realize we have [privilege] unless it’s pointed out, and even then, we can forget it’s there."
Of course, allyship is imperfect, and we’re going to make mistakes — in part because privilege is so insidious. We often don’t realize we have it unless it’s pointed out, and even then, we can forget it’s there. As such, we might have our privilege pointed out to us again and again.
It can be uncomfortable, but it’s necessary if we’re going to level the playing field for everyone.
Equity is something we all need to work at until all our lives and experiences are valued equally.
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