Privilege: n., a right or benefit that is given to some people and not to others- Merriam Webster Dictionary
I do not consider myself a privileged person. I’m a twenty two year old office manager living in Brooklyn. Most of my salary goes towards rent and paying down student loans. My apartment is modest and my spending carefully budgeted. I feel like I know what privilege is. Privilege is The Real Housewives of Wherever. Or the well dressed lady I see walking out of her Park Ave apartment into a waiting car. Privilege looks nothing like me. And yet….
I know how to read. Roughly one in ten women don’t.1 If knowledge is power, then the ability to read is the key to the engine. How is anyone supposed to lift themselves out of poverty if they can’t read their own name or keep their own business records?
Second, I can practice whatever religion I want, or practice no religion at all, which is more than can be said for millions of people around the world. If I had been born in Iran, Sudan, or Afghanistan I could be killed by the government for expressing my religious beliefs, or any religious beliefs at all.2 Even many countries that by law allow freedom of religion do not adequately protect their citizens from religion-related hate crimes. A government that gives its citizens the right to practice the religion of their choosing but does not prosecute offenders who attack others based on their religious beliefs, is no safer than a government killing its citizens themselves.
These are just two examples, but the list of privileges I have seems to grow every time I think about it. I make over $40,000 per year while a quarter of the world lives on less than $2 per day.3 I trust my local law enforcement to protect, not exploit me. I have access to the medication I need to survive. I’ve never wondered where my next meal would come from.
Although I’ve worked hard to get where I am, I have to recognize that so much of the life I lead is due to pure circumstance. I am no better, no smarter, no more deserving of privilege than a woman of the same age who lives in India or Bangladesh or Afghanistan. I feel what can perhaps be best described as survivors guilt. This guilt coupled with a love for my fellow human beings motivates me to seek change in the world. But what can one girl do to effect change in a world so full of brokenness?
I do my best to use my privilege to help others and I would encourage anyone who is reading this to do the same. It can take many forms. Perhaps you set up a recurring donation to a cause you feel passionate about. Or maybe you volunteer your time to help an organization that works to give others the basic rights you take for granted. Or even use your talents to work for a non-profit. It’s your call, but a call that should not be ignored. As Voltaire wrote, “All people are equal, it is not birth, it is virtue alone that makes the difference.”
So I challenge you to make a difference by using the privilege that you never asked for, to privilege those who never had a chance to ask.
Written by: Tahlia Prindle