Opinion: Privilege should be utilized to enact change

I have privilege. And odds are, you do too. Whether it is because we are able-bodied, born into a financially comfortable family, receive a good education, or have certain characteristics that society values over others, we all have privilege of some kind.

Does this mean that we do not have struggles? No. Does this make us bad people? Definitely not. Privilege, by nature, is out of our control. And yet, acknowledging that we have a leg up in life goes against the idea of meritocracy, which is why it is so hard to accept.

Meritocracy, defined as a system in which individual effort yields individual success, is infused in American society. It goes with the idea of the American dream, which dates back to the founding of our country. Therefore, admitting that not all your success was self-made is a bitter pill to swallow. And getting called out on it is even worse. 

Calling people out by saying “check your privilege” became a way to dismiss their views based on their advantages in life. It is a method of shutting people down, and is more likely to cause offense than mutual understanding.

“From what I’ve seen, a lot of people here in Newport Beach think that ‘privileged’ is a derogatory term, and when we’re called privileged, we should be insulted,” Jaya Tewari, a recent Corona del Mar High School graduate said.

However, being privileged does not have to be a bad thing.

“When we are called privileged, we shouldn’t run from the term or be mad. We need to accept that fact, and see how we can use our experiences to help others who haven’t had the same opportunities as we have, whether that means financially, quality of education, or something else entirely,” Tewari adds. 

But why do people hate accepting that they have privilege?

“It can be hard for people to acknowledge their own privilege because they assume it undermines the validity of their own accomplishments,” explains Sarah Schoenbaum, a senior at CdM.

It is important to realize that having privilege does not mean that someone does not work hard, and that they do not deserve success. It is equally important to realize that many with privilege have an easier road to success than others. 

“Checking your privilege” simply means realizing that your experience in life gives you a unique perspective, and that your perspective may be vastly different than those with difference experiences than you. For example, a man’s perspective on feminism will be different than that of a woman’s, and a woman of color’s perspective on feminism will be different than that of a Caucasian woman’s.

This is not to say that any of these viewpoints are not valid. It is about being aware of how your perspective is biased based upon your identity and upbringing.

Admitting you have privilege is not admitting that you are a bad person. No one is asking for you to apologize for advantages you were born with and had no control over.

“I feel that coming from a well-off family is nothing to be ashamed of, and also not to be bragged about. Our opportunities and privileges should be greatly appreciated and taken advantage of as much as possible since very few are as lucky,” Corona del Mar sophomore Locke Darmer said.

Life does not have to be a competition of who had it worst. In fact, acknowledging privilege is the first step to furthering equality. 

Though you cannot control what kind of life you are born with, you can control whether you use your privilege in a positive way or not. You can use it to lift up the voices of those who are marginalized. Those who have privilege have the opportunity to create change.

“The person with privilege should be able to think in terms of a larger perspective and how they could create other privileges for who and what they care about, instead of using their prestige or relative power to become more powerful with less reason to,” Corona del Mar junior Arta Khosravi said.

Though they may not directly benefit from the change themselves, those with privilege have the opportunity to be leaders and influencers. Those with high intellectual abilities, social connections, financial means or other talents have an obligation to take care of those who are impoverished, mentally ill, or otherwise marginalized in our society.

“As someone who is privileged, I know that it is my responsibility to use my privilege to create the space for marginalized voices to be heard,” senior Taylor Cooper said. “The truth is, society depends upon those with privilege to give back to it. 

So, next time you hear “check your privilege,” remember that despite any negative connotation, being privileged means being able to make a difference. Everyone wants to be the change they want to see in the world, so do not hold back. I have checked my privilege. I invite you to do so as well.  

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