Privilege is something that is not often recognized by those who possess it, but it undeniably affects everyday life, whether one possesses or lacks it. This has been at the forefront of my mind recently.
In a hypothetical situation, let’s say that a student discusses with his class an issue he feels is important to him. This issue, he claims, is the bias he faces as a white male. He comes from a semi-wealthy family and attends a private school, and because of this, others assume his life is easy.
Such is this wealth that he received a car from his parents for his 16th birthday and he does not have to pay his school tuition. Because of his status, he feels that he faces bias, including the misconstrued notion that he does not face hardship as a result of his demographic.
This thought in and of itself is problematic. There is no denying that he may face bias from others who do not know him or his daily struggles, but is his life seriously impacted by this bias?
I am not trying to say that his personal feelings are invalid. I’m sure he does face hardship that is relative to his situation, just as I, as a middle-class white female college student, do. However, do those hardships affect a white, semi-wealthy male’s quality of life?
Is he economically disadvantaged because of those biases? Is he seen as lesser than because of his demographic group? Does the system work against him, gaslighting him into thinking he has achieved full social and economic equality? Has he had to work exponentially harder to attain the same successes as his counterparts of another demographic group?
The answer is no.
Once again, I am not denying that every demographic group faces biases. Bias is inherent in human nature; everyone has his or her own personal biases. The more important issue is whether those biases create a system in which a demographic group is marginalized and disadvantaged.
Facing bias as a white male is different from facing bias as a Black male.
The bias white males face does not result in systemic racism against white citizens that is so ingrained in society that it creates obstacles that are often too difficult to overcome.
It does not create a society in which the white man is unjustly killed for allegedly using a counterfeit bill, while the Black man who committed mass murder is peacefully taken into custody.
It does not create de facto segregation at the expense of white citizens, nor does it create an education system in which white people are disproportionately disadvantaged.
In fact, it creates a system in which the worst is assumed of a Black man, while the best is assumed of a white man.
Similarly, the biases a man faces based on his gender do not create a system in which men are marginalized for their gender.
They do not create a taboo against a bodily function that all men experience every month. They do not create a culture of “locker room talk” and the impending danger of sexual harassment for men to face in their daily lives.
From these biases, a society that views men as lesser, weaker and mere objects does not result.
Overall, there is an inherent difference between mere biases that individuals hold and systemic oppression that marginalized groups face. On some occasions, those biases turn into systemic oppression that hinders the prosperity of marginalized groups. Racial bias turns into systemic racism, as is exemplified in our society today. However, in the scenario I first discussed in this column, such is not the case.
It is important to be aware of the difference between mere personal biases and serious systemic oppression to distinguish which issues need attention from legislators and society as a whole.
This will create an atmosphere in which we can enact necessary policy changes and create a better quality of life for those who face said systemic oppression.