Above the poverty line? Check. Straight? Check. White? Check.
I carry these privileges with me on a daily basis, whether I am aware of them or not. I am not discriminated against because of my social class, sexual orientation or skin color. In addition to these items, I am afforded certain opportunities because of certain external factors. I must “check my privilege” and realize I view the world in a specific way because of the privileges I have always enjoyed. I do not know what it is like to be a minority in many respects, and my political views are influenced by these privileges.
In a society that struggles to balance political correctness with the right to free speech, the phrase “check your privilege” sometimes carries a negative connotation. According to the top definition on Urban Dictionary, “check your privilege” is “a term screamed by far left sheltered liberals” who are hypersensitive and worry too much about offending others.
While everyone has the right to free speech and is entitled to an opinion, that free speech and those opinions can coexist with the idea of checking one’s privilege. The phrase is not meant to hinder anyone’s ideas or create a space where people are afraid to express their opinions. It is instead a phrase intended to be used to remind an individual that not everyone has the same advantages in life.
Checking your privilege has nothing to do with creating a safe space or undermining someone’s accomplishments. By checking your privilege, you are merely making yourself aware of the subtle advantages you have been given because of external factors.
The phrase, which admittedly can be used in a condescending manner, should be used as a way to remind ourselves of the privileges we enjoy. It should not, however, be used as a verbal weapon to discredit someone’s accomplishments.
While I believe I have worked hard to accomplish certain things in my life, I also know I had help achieving those things. Yes, I was accepted to Lehigh based on my own merits. I am aware, however, that I had parents who supported me throughout school and valued my education. When I struggled with pre-algebra, my mother spent countless hours with me at the kitchen table to teach me the basics of equations. So yes, I did well in the math sections of standardized tests, but that performance was aided by my mother. If I had not had a mother who had the luxury of helping me with school because she was forced to work multiple jobs to put food on the table, I may not have been able to pass pre-algebra.
According to a study by the Center for Education Policy Analysis, students who come from higher socio-economic backgrounds tend to have higher test scores than their peers who come from minority or disadvantaged backgrounds. These disparities, which are accepted as a feature of the American education system, create an uneven playing field. I was privileged enough to come from a family that could spend time to help me with school work, and that advantage has propelled me forward. While I did achieve academic milestones because of my own knowledge, that knowledge was fostered by parents who cared about my education. This is just one example of the influence my privilege has had on my life.
The phrase “check your privilege” is in no way meant to discredit the achievements of anyone, nor is it meant to demean those who have accomplished anything at all — it is merely a phrase intended to create a socially conscious population where members are aware of their certain advantages they possess because of identifiers such as their race, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status.
There is no need to apologize for one’s privilege, as those who are adamantly against checking one’s privilege have suggested, but there is a need to recognize it. People are more than their privilege, but it is a contributing factor that affects daily life.
Em Okrepkie, 18, is the news editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]