Check your privilege

Awareness of privilege is part and parcel of being a true ally.

"Check your privilege" is an expression used to remind people they are speaking from a biased perspective due to their intersectional privilege(s). Often it is modified to further specify the type of privilege, e.g., "check your white privilege", "check your cis privilege", "check your male privilege", and so on.

Methods of checking one's privilege

  • Noting the speaker in a discussion. Is this speaker somebody with less privilege, trying to provide their perspective. Are they finished, or are you interrupting them? Do your words undermine theirs or derail their topic of conversation?
  • Taking notice of the space. Is this space a space that was made to include you, or was it made to accommodate other people with different intersections of privilege? Are you the featured speaker or a guest?
  • Noticing if you're condesplaining to somebody else. Is your point of view accurate for all people, or just for your experience? Do they need or have they asked for your perspective?
  • Thinking about your own situation if you want to explain how you can relate or how you have it "just as bad." If you're white, how would your life be different if you weren't? If you're straight, how would your life be different if you weren't? If you're cis, would your difficulties increase if you were trans? Even a person who may be laid low or have problems, if they have many avenues of privilege, would find new problems in life if they were not socially favored. (example: "You may be poor and white, but what if you were poor and black?")
  • Following the directions of others when they ask you to let others speak or to stop intruding on a conversation, or to converse in another channel or area. One may expect them to do the same in other circumstances, so deferring to people with less social privilege shouldn't be an issue of pride or ego.
  • Thinking about your language and words. Do your words hurt other people? If you're not hurt by a slur, why is that?
  • Asking for clarification in the appropriate places, or doing your own research, rather than assuming you already know what there is to know (you may not!) or demanding the discussion slow down to educate you when there are many free resources available.
  • Standing in solidarity with people unlike yourself rather than trying to represent them or speak for them.
  • Realizing that a privileged person can withdraw from these issues and have them cease to be of direct importance, until they open up discussion again. Someone without privilege might not be able to do that, and face microaggressions or other systematic expressions of these problems in everyday life.

Misconceptions surrounding the phrase

Unfortunately, many people may misinterpret "check your privilege" as a more sophisticated form of "shut up" or "you're evil." This may be because privilege blindness causes them not to see that they have unaccounted for advantages, and thus interpret rejection of their perspective (that's often never been disfavored) as hatred or silencing. In fact they may mistake being asked to check their privilege as an infringement of their right to free speech; this is not what free speech is.

Checking one's privilege requires self-awareness, humility, and above all the knowledge that not all people have similar life experiences. Essentialists or others may have already flagged many human experiences or behaviors as "just human nature" — erasing that different demographics don't experience these habits equally or inflict them on all other demographics of people.

"Check your privilege" can be seen as a critical opposition to "That's just the way it is": a protest that experiences and life struggles are not evenly distributed in the population and that more privileged demographics can't have the same lives or don't endure the same hardships as less privileged people.

Checking privilege as a lifelong skill

One characteristic of the act of checking one's privilege is that it isn't a single action. It's not a correction to one's behavior after which the issue is never addressed again. Rather, it is the application of critical thinking skills to one's social and cultural advantages and how they interact with others in the world, performed consistently over time. Privilege is not like baggage, checked in and then collected. It is more like a threat that must constantly be kept in check by a self-aware and responsible person. Culture does not stop advantaging privileged people; privileged people cannot simply stop being critical of the culture that gives them these gifts at the expense of others in their community.

See also

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