If you are reading this, then congratulations, you have some sort of privilege! Whether it’s the privilege of being visually-able to see the words on the screen or the socio-economic privilege of having access to the Internet and some spare time on your hands, you’ve got it, baby! Now what are you gonna do with it?
Privilege—an advantage beyond your control—exists in many forms. Not being aware of the privileges you have is the biggest indication that you are privileged. But don’t fall into a shame spiral—feeling guilty or denying the fact that you have privilege doesn’t help anyone. You have it, so why not share it? Magically, sharing privilege doesn’t diminish your own privilege stash. So, let’s identify the privileges you have and figure out how you can share the advantages you have with others.
Not being born into poverty is an enormous privilege. It means unfettered access to clean water and healthy fresh foods, safe places to live, easier paths to college, and on and on. Luckily socio-economic privilege is the easiest privilege to share. You can easily donate your extra money and/or time to causes that benefit the less-privileged—and there are a lot of those. You can also use your voice by using the platforms you have to help elevate others.
Sharing white privilege can be tricky. It’s all too easy to succumb to “white savior” complex—don’t be a Matt Damon. First, admit that white privilege exists. Having it doesn’t mean you’re racist and it doesn’t mean you don’t have “black friends,” it just means that you are white and that you’ve always been white and that being white in the U.S. and much of the world is an advantage. Instead of feeling white guilt, try feeling empathy. Seek to inform yourself about issues that affect people of color—the key part being “inform yourself,” because it’s not POC’s job to educate white people about the “mysteries” of all that is non-white.
Learning about the lives of others who are different from us makes us better allies—and humans. A white person can never understand what it’s like to be a person of color, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. (But, please don’t attempt to act out the plot of Soul Man. Please.)
Being Christian in America comes with many privileges. (Too bad I’m a pagan….) The majority of lawmakers are Christian and the majority of school calendar holidays are Christian holidays…. Also, no one is talking about making a national registry of Christians or banning them. If you are a Christian you can share your privilege by educating yourself about atheism and non-Christian religions and engaging in open dialogues with people who have these other beliefs. Organized belief systems have more similarities than they do differences, so embrace the things you share in common rather than arguing about what you don’t.
If you are a man in America, then you don’t have to worry about the government making decisions about your reproductive rights. You also get paid more than women for doing the same job. Don’t worry, dudes, it’s not your fault the system is rigged. It is, however, problematic and shows your privilege when you deny that there’s a problem. You can use your platform of maleness to stand up for women’s reproductive and employment rights. These aren’t just “women’s causes,” but human ones.
Never having to “come out” to your family and friends when it comes to your love life, never worrying about which public bathroom to use, marrying the person you love, and easily adopting children are all privileges not readily afforded by the LGBTQ community. If you’re a straight cisgender person, then you can share your privilege in many ways—by educating yourself and other straight and cisgendered people about queer causes, by supporting gay-friendly businesses and by boycotting anti-LGBTQ businesses, and by using your empathy rather than your judgment.
Being able to see, hear, move freely, and having control of your mental faculties are huge advantages in life. If you have any of these privileges you can do things like visit the homebound with food delivery programs like Meals on Wheels, or volunteer at your local nursing home (BINGO, anyone?), or even offer your seat on the bus to someone who needs it. None of us will be young and able-bodied forever—let’s share this privilege while we can.
There’s no one right way to share your privilege, but being empathetic to the feelings of other human beings is always a great place to start. It may seem like America is a nation divided—Republicans and Democrats, haves and have-nots, black and white—but focusing on these differences just divides us further. Checking our privileges and putting ourselves in the shoes of those who are different from us helps us to reach across this divide—and when we do we realize that the divide isn’t nearly as big as we think it is.