Opinion: Changing who we listen to

“Use Your Privilege” to speak up about Black Lives Matter. “Use Your Privilege” to speak up about LGBTQ issues. “Use Your Privilege” to speak up about sexism. It seems as if everyone is getting told that they have to speak up about human rights issues, that they have privilege in some way shape or form, and that speaking up about human rights is their duty.

That when they speak about issues that don’t directly affect them it gives the issues more legitimacy, because, hey, this person has nothing to do with this cause, and they still care. And while people using privilege to raise awareness about important issues is critical, it is just another way of working with the system instead of changing it. Of saying “this sucks, but it is what it is” instead of saying “this sucks, let’s change it.” I think it’s clear that the systems this country (the United States) was built on are rigged against anyone who isn’t the straight white cis male.

According to Payscale, white men are paid the most for performing the same job as anybody else, and the wage gap is just one way to prove this privilege. But where the real current problem stems from is the fact that we have all become so fluent in working with the system rather than working to change it.

And that’s what we need, to change the system. We don’t need reform or slight tweaks, we need everything, and I mean everything to be changed, from what we learn in schools, to how we get out jobs to how we get paid for our jobs to the entire criminal justice systems, we need the systems to not only be different but to be new. “And how do we do that?” you might ask. By changing who we listen to. 

What the statement “Use Your Privilege” really says is “the people in charge aren’t gonna listen to the minorities, so the privileged people need to speak up.” And while that’s true, it’s not OK. 

Right now, we do need to be using privilege and amplifying voices, but we also need to be understanding that to make a change, a change in the root of the problem and not just at the surface we cant just be listening to white people telling Black stories or cis people telling trans peoples stories or men telling women’s stories we need to listen at the source. 

In my daily life, at school or online, I have heard people say things like “we need men at the forefront of feminism because people will listen to them.” And while, yes, male feminists are great and necessary, we need women, and specifically women of color at the forefront of feminism. But they’re not — feminism is still led in the media by white women, because they are who our lawmakers and politicians listen to. I have heard that white people need to be at the heart of the BLM movement because, again, the white people are who the people in power are going to listen to.   

But if we ever plan on making a change we can’t continue to go on like this. We can’t continue living in a society of pressured activism, of “Use Your Privilege” and amplify voices. We need Number one: everyone to care about issues of basic human rights and Number two: to listen to minorities tell their stories and their struggles from the source. 

That doesn’t sound that hard, does it? Well, it’s not. Changing who you listen to doesn’t take any lawmakers or politicians or money, it just takes changing your mindset.