Privilege and blurring the issues

In a recent blog post, Echidne of the Snakes questions the use of privilege in discussion—does it really advance the debate about inequality and what to do with it? And she links to a blog post discussing six signs of class privilege as an example. According to the post, class privilege includes:

•Getting a good night’s sleep.

•Not being victimized by wage theft.

•Having sick leave.

•You can find fresh food at the grocery store.

Echidne’s criticism (not singling out the article in particular) is that a)discussing things like “your employer didn’t break the law in paying you” as a matter of privilege doesn’t actually offer a deeper perspective on the wage-theft issue than focusing on the fact it’s illegal. She wonders if it isn’t a handicap to dealing with the problem: people being victimized by crimes is something we may be able to work on (tougher law enforcement, push prosecutors to sue, etc.) but just thinking “well I have privilege” doesn’t provide any guidance for what to do next.

My own thoughts on the linked blog post were that it’s simply wrong to treat all this stuff as proof of class bias. For instance, when I got out of college, I worked for a year (two? Wow, I don’t think I know for certain) at a gas station, minimum wage. I was still able to buy decent food but that “privilege” had nothing to do with my class standing obviously. It had to do with living in a small-enough town that the grocery stores were accessible, even when I only had a bicycle. Likewise I don’t recall any of my employers, neither the station nor the next two or three, ripping me off; I don’t believe any employer has done that. I don’t deny this is a bigger issue for people at the bottom of the food chain, but still, “class” doesn’t seem quite the right prism for analyzing it.

“Privilege,” when I first ran into the concept in discussions of discrimination and rights, was presented more about attitude than life situation. Being able to buy food wasn’t the privilege; assuming that everyone else not buying fresh food at Publix or the farmer’s market or wherever does so by choice and not by necessity would be where my privilege shows. Which makes useful sense, because attitude is something we can work on, for example realizing how much we gain just by being white/born to rich people/male, etc., etc., etc. Or assuming that if a black kid can get the same chance as a white kid by working three times as hard, well he got the same chances so obviously the game is fair. Whereas I’m not sure that thinking “Wow, I’m privileged—I don’t live in a food desert!” is something we can work on.

And that’s without getting into the question, what if you get a good job and those financial advantages because you really worked for it? I’m sure my modest success as a writer has been aided by my being male and white, but even so, I can take a certain credit for landing a good paying job at the Destin Log (well, before all the salary cuts and furloughs)—and with that the freedom to eat better, not to work a second job (freelance writing aside), and to get sick leave.

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Filed under economics, Personal, Politics

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