Privilege, it’s a somewhat small word, and yet its very meaning is so deep. Those of us who are of the privileged groups often dismiss its depth of meaning without much second thought. It’s a time in history, I believe, where we have an opportunity to really assess just how deep into everything the roots of privilege go.
The dictionary tells us that privilege is:
And that certainly is true. Groups that lack privilege call on us to check our privilege before we wade into things. Before we try to be an ally. Before we try to present discourse on a debate. Before we pontificate our opinion on issues that are of real importance and justice to them. They do this because it needs to be done. And generally if we neglect to check our privilege we are very darn good at tripping over it.
I for one have tripped on my privilege plenty of times.
I have quite a bit of privilege. Whether it feels that way to me or not it is true.
Yes, I am a member of a marginalised group being an autistic man, and proudly I claim membership of this group. I encounter disadvantage as a member of this marginalised group. Being a part of this group means I encounter marginalisation, silencing, gas lighting, rejection and discrimination amongst other things. But….
I am also a white (Caucasian)
I am also male
I am also married
I also have children.
These don’t counteract the fact that I am a member of a marginalised group but they are separate to it. They are things that assign privilege to me. Privilege that is difficult to understand. It is privilege that you can’t negate. There are special rights and entries that these things provide me that can’t be ignored or made redundant.
At this point I can sense the groans of fellow white males who may be thinking, here we go again with the anti-white anti male sentiments. I confess I have been one of those groaners int he past. But that’s not the point here. The point is that privilege is there no matter how I think or feel about it.
I will never be profiled as a potential criminal based on the pigment of my skin.
I will never have my intentions around children questioned based on my sexual orientation.
I will never be in a situation of being unable to enter a public amenity due to a non-binary gender.
I do not have to fight a legal battle to ensure the inheritance rights of my partner because of my sexual orientation.
My fitness to parent will not be questioned.
My ability to face a jury of my peers will not be
I will never ever have to face any of those issues. The reason is privilege. I need to check it.
Yes I really do. Like it or not we all do. Because I will never know what it is like to walk the streets as a person of colour and worry about how I may be treated on that basis. I will never have to be concerned that I have no chance of justice because I will be prejudged on the basis of the colour of my skin. So yes. I need to check my privilege.
I need to do this intentionally. When I write about autism issues I write as a member of that marginalised group. When mothers of autistic children write about autism they do not. THey are then in a position of needing to check their privilege.
If I were to choose to write about issues of mobility and access for those who rely on a wheelchair, I would need to check my privilege. I am not a member of that marginalised group. I have no concept what it is like to negotiate a shopping centre, or anything for that matter reliant on wheelchair transportation.
An important take-away here, and one that I have learned the hard way is that membership in one marginalised or disadvantaged group does not excuse one from checking their privilege in relation to other marginalised groups.
Does this mean we should not or can not speak into situations and issues that we have privilege in? No not at all, but it does mean we defer to those that are without privilege. This applies in many areas. For instance on the issue of marriage-equality and equal rights to parenting for LGBTIQ people, I am entitled to speak what my opinion is around this issue, I am entitled to speak in support of justice around these issues. But, I must do so, with a clear understanding that I will never be in the issue, I will never have true empathy and understanding of the issues of justice and equality that the members of this group have.
Yes. I must check my privilege and I must continue to do so.
As I have said I have learned this the hard way. I have hurt people I cared about by failing to check my privilege and being arrogant enough to believe that I was not operating from a position of privilege.
To move this post back to my world of experience, I would like to finish with the comment that I am convinced that this is the very issue that causes such angst and animosity between the so-called autism allies and autism parent community with the actually autistic community. When websites like The Mighty publish horrendous pieces like MeltDown Bingo as they recently did it is primarily because they failed to check their privilege. The Mighty claim to be a disability ally and yet they published such a horrendous piece.
It is a similar situation when we see autism parent bloggers and so-called warrior parents write about the difficulties of their autistic kids or post compromising photos, or videos of their kids in their underwear and so forth. It is that they have failed to check their privilege. And when checked by actually autistic adults about some of those things, the failure to check that privilege is clear as often the response to this is something along the lines of it is my life and my right to publish what I like. Yes got it in one, it is your privilege that enables that, and it is your child’s lake thereof that leaves them incapable of stopping it from being published.
Yes I must check my privilege and yes I must continue to do so.