So he says - Are you sure it’s not too late?

So I tell him listen, Carlos had told us anytime right, so that means anytime, and it’s only twelve fucking thirty in the morning, so he mumbles something like still, it is kinda late, and I say look, his dad is doing that fucking midnight show with that third wife of his - Yeah, the bleached blonde  I know, yeah, she is kinda hot, in a slutty way but she is way over thirty you know -  but I can tell he’s not connecting the dots and he just stands there and stares at me, you know sometimes I think he’s just doing too much weed, I mean, it’s like nobody’s home sometimes - Don’t you think?

So here we are, standing at the door, you know, and Juan moves just out of sight of the little peep door, like in the old San Juan doors, a little door and the wrought iron grate, and that big ass wrought iron knocker below.  So I knock, bang-bang-bang, and it’s fucking loud and I think Juan is going to shit a brick, and I notice the street is like real quiet and I’m thinking, ok, so maybe I am a bit high myself, and maybe this is not such a hot idea, and Juan is going to be all moody and bothered that we left the bar and gave up the primo seats and maybe we could have met some girls, as if.

Yeah, he does come to the door, and he is, I am not shitting you,  wearing a purple velvet smoking jacket, and it’s a bit surreal you know, cause it’s gotta be his dad’s, you know? Carlos is all slim and pigeon-chested and the jacket is too wide in the shoulder and too long for him and anyways, who the fuck wears velvet in the tropics even if you have the A/C pumped to eleven, but he's just standing there grinning and cool and all come in, come in and I would not have been surprised if he had pulled a fucking cigarette holder from his pocket.

Of course his parents were not there, not only are they not there, they’re not coming back.

No asshole, that night -They’re staying in some presidential suite his dad got comped for plugging the hotel on his show. So we walk in the foyer - have you been to his house? - we walk in the foyer and it’s all colonial and high backed Spanish inquisition mahogany chairs and a gigantic fugly abstract painting on the wall staring at us, but, wait for it, casually tossed on the foyer table, ArtNews - and whats on the cover? - yep, you got it, the fugly painting.   It’s not his mind you, it belongs to the museum.  I know I know, but they let him borrow all this stuff, like the two suits of armor flanking the painting, also the museum.

 Yeah, senior is on the board and I’m sure he gives them money but he gets’ some pretty impressive shit for the house, right?

So, he walks us out to the interior patio and you know, it’s beautiful, a fountain fed by a couple of Moorish stone lions, a whole row of mahogany doors to the bedrooms - The lions? I don’t know - reproductions maybe, doesn’t fucking matter, they look real and expensive. Carlos is just talking and talking like a tour guide about the art in the foyer, and then how each door came from a different country in Europe - I don’t care if he’s just a sophomore, we were never that uptight - and we are walking in this garden with dwarf palm trees and it smells of limes and oranges from the miniature fruit trees and it’s lit like a fucking resort,  you can’t see where half the lights are coming from and Carlos is going on and on about the open air dining room and how it’s fucking period correct - who talks like that? - for the house and that the kitchen is separate from the house cause it was dangerous when you cooked over an open flame and that the tiles are reproductions from the ancient synagogue of who knows what from Toledo, I mean, his dad has done a job on that kid, he wont shut the fuck up and I say to him cause, Juan you know, has gone all quiet and I don’t think he’s tripping, he’s just, you know, like impressed and I say So Carlos, do you have any beer? it’s fucking hot and I’ve had three or four rum and cokes and god knows what Pipo - Remember Pipo? Yeah, the bartender at El Batey puts in them and I swear it’s not rum, more like grain and I am parched and he says, sure and we go into the kitchen and Carlos points at the industrial glass doored refrigerator and there’s like a case of India beer so I grab three and open them and Juan you know, is still like a mouse, cowed and I’m handing him a beer and he just grins at me, I swear he’s losing it... So then Carlos says let’s go to the disco and I’m like, we just got here.

I know, it was already late, but you’re not going to fucking believe this - so I say, but we just got here and he laughs and says no I mean here and you know, that doesn’t help, and I’m lost  and thinking that something is either wrong with me or Carlos but we are just not connecting when Juan pipes up, first thing he’s said since hello how are you,  you have a disco in the house? and Carlos puffs up and I swear he almost fills out the fucking smoking jacket and smiles and just walks out of the kitchen.

So, I hesitate just for a second but Juan just follows him and I’m just standing there like an idiot holding the two beers and then Carlos,  he opens this door and it’s a small room - but - there’s a mirrored ball, flashing lights, a parquet floor, loud music, red velvet everywhere, and I mean, the place is like the inside of a fucking velvet pouch, walls, benches, and, you are not going to believe this, sprawled on one of the benches - oh my fucking word - it’s fucking Wes.

What do you mean Wes who? How many Wes’s do you fucking know? the English teacher, you know, Bam-Bam. Yes, him, in the fucking flesh, the blond bowl cut hair, the stupid colored levis, the Izod shirt.  He stands up in a fucking hurry when he sees us, almost toppling the rum bottle on the table in front of him and you know, he’s lit and I mean, a little slurry and swaying and embarrassed and laughing way too hard and being goofy and I have no fucking idea why he’s there.

I know, I know -  he was all dressed and everything but I’m thinking FUCK he’s a teacher, in a sophomore’s house, and the parents are away, and I mean out for the night, and it’s way past midnight.  And Carlos doesn’t seem to think there is anything wrong with this, and I am thinking, is he that innocent or just playing at it?  And it’s too loud in there to say anything complicated so we scream hellos at each other and Juan is screaming at Carlos how cool the disco is and asking him if he can do the dj’ing and where are the records and does he have any Patti Labelle and does he have any Kool and The Gang and I’m looking at him like maybe it’s just me and who gives a shit if Wes is there. - How old you think Wes is? No, he’s younger than that, he just got his masters, he can’t be older than 26 and you know, then it hit me - I look over at him and see him chatting up Carlos and I think, he’s just lonely, he doesn’t know anybody outside of the teachers at school and most of them are priests even if they are Jesuits.  He’s also a hick from the sticks - you know? - Grew up on a farm and always talks about how busy San Juan is and how he used to get up to milk the cows before light, he’s probably never seen the kind of money Carlos’ father has.

So I don’t really remember how long we hang out, Juan is happy playing with the lights and the equipment and keeps hitting us with blasts of the fog machine but I am getting more and more anxious I mean Carlos is on now to Wes about the BMW that his dad bought for him and how it's not ready and he's missing parts and they are so hard to get and he has to order them from Germany - What? Of course he cant drive it, he's 15, but it doesn't matter cause it’s not running anyways - and I feel like I can't breathe anymore what with the paintings and the velvet and Wes slowly falling asleep on the bench still balancing a glass of rum and I'm thinking that the cut glass tumbler is probably worth what my dad makes in a graveyard shift at the printing shop and maybe we can go back to El Batey and have another mystery rum and coke from Pipo and half the time he doesn't even charge us.

I get up and stumble and realize the rum and the beers are really hitting me hard and my lips are  numb which is always a bad sign so I grab Juan from the dj booth where he is still riffling through the records and tell him that I'm taking off and I think he was just hiding at the booth anyways so he says he’ll come with me - Which is good cause he’s my ride - so I go up to Carlos and say man, we have to get a move on and Carlos right away starts in with where are you going and I'm just bracing myself for it cause I know he's going to want to come along and even Wes is waking up sort of.

So we all leave and thankfully Carlos has taken the velvet jacket off and we start down the street and I’m just - you know - not exactly paranoid, concerned, but maybe it’s just the weed, cause we have to walk past that police station at the entrance of Fortaleza where all the governor’s cops hang out, but it’s nice to be out and now its like two in the morning and I think everybody is feeling a bit weird I mean, we make some group and the street is even quieter and I notice that Carlos is way drunker than I thought and he is just not used to it - well, not exactly falling down drunk but, weavy and grinny - and as we are going now up the hill trying not to slip on the wet cobblestones Carlos just comes up next to me and says - hey, there’s a car just like mine - and sure enough, there’s a BMW just like his but green - you know, I can’t find an oil plug for mine and I really want to get the engine started - he says to me and I’m thinking ok so, but I slowly get it, he’s looking at the car and looking back at the cop station down the hill, and I'm like, you are fucking insane - and he’s like, no, I already got the hubcaps from another one in a garage, I can do this, there’s no one around, and I say I’m not with you, I don’t know who you are, but Juan is like what’s going on and Carlos is asking him whether he has any tools in his car and I’m like dude, don’t give him any tools but Juan is already walking to his car and Wes is clueless about what’s going on cause we've gone back to Spanish and its too fast for him but I think he can sense that something bad is afoot, specially when Juan gets back with a wrench and then just grins at me - I know, he’s all quiet and all but he does have a mean streak - So Carlos sticks it in his back pocket and walks over to the car and we just keep going up the hill to the little plaza.  And now I think I have reason to be paranoid - hold your horses I’m getting to it - so we are hanging out, you know friends having a chat under a lamppost up at the plaza but we are all stealing looks at Carlos and he is about as subtle as a hippo, a fucking wrench sticking out of his back pocket - fucking rich boy - and all of a sudden he drops and scoots under the car.

So Wes sees this and I think he has had enough he just takes off, no goodnight no nothing, just scared I guess and I’m beginning to think this is a really really bad idea when Carlos starts cursing from under the car and it’s echoing down the street and all of a sudden I hear someone rounding the corner - you got it, a cop - and he is heading down the street and just then Carlos starts cursing and scoots out from under the car and he is covered in oil and the cop is on him and we can’t really see what is going on cause as soon as I saw the cop I started up the plaza towards the wall but they took him in.

Nah - He told me they just took him up to the station and when they asked him his name they said any relation and he said yeah, my dad and they just let him go, can you believe that shit?  

Oh yeah, right, sorry, I had to tell you the whole story, no? That is why Wes is no longer with us - just left a letter of resignation and didn’t even pick up his last check according to Juan.

Privileges are the advantages that somebody enjoys by virtue of being part of some group or other, rather than their own merit; to have these sorts of advantages is to be in a position of privilege. As such, privilege can be thought of as the other side of prejudice, although it is a little broader than that. It is also very closely related to the notion of entitlement, although the two words have interestingly different connotations. The whole idea seems to act as a trigger point for a lot of people, putting them straight on the defensive, which is understandable. When our own privilege is pointed out, it can feel like we are being condemned, or our views are being dismissed, on the basis of things we can't help - which does happen sometimes, and probably shouldn't. It is an important concept, though, and it is worth trying to get past gut reactions.

Privilege is insidious, and worthy of careful consideration, largely because people tend to be blind to their own privilege. If you don't have to experience someone else's problems first-hand, it's terribly easy to dismiss them, or assume that they aren't that bad. This makes a lot of discussions about racism, sexism, homophobia, disability, transphobia and class, among other things, a lot more fraught than they otherwise would be, because they are tinged with incredulity. What, you get sexually harassed almost every week? Surely that must be a gross exaggeration. What, people routinely take you less seriously than they take me purely due to some accident of birth? Pshaw, I've usually known people to be very reasonable, I'm sure it's just your imagination.

Of course, people do sometimes exaggerate their problems, and there is a danger that people might put the way they're treated down to prejudice when there is another, more accurate or complete explanation available. But prejudice, discrimination and inequality in general are far bigger problems than many of us are willing to admit, and stereotyping often runs deep even amongst those of us who insist we see people as equal, so these things are likely to explain a lot more than we like to think, especially if we don't witness them first-hand. If you're pretty sure you're not sexist, for example, check out the experiments which show that most people, whether they consciously think that or not, have strong unconscious associations between femininity and weakness, incompetence, and so on. Even more subtly, it has been shown that women themselves are more likely to demonstrate so-called feminine qualities if they are reminded of their gender, for example with a tick-box at the start of a test asking if they are male or female. These are just a couple of examples of currents of unexamined, frequently unconscious prejudice that run beneath the surface of even the most liberal people's understanding of the world.

Privilege is so often invisible not just because it is so easy to be unconscious of one's own prejudices, but also because it manifests itself so many little ways - as well as the big ones that we get to hear about because they are the main focus of any movement for equality. Peggy McIntosh's short but influential piece 'Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack' is a classic examination of this, mainly in the context of white privilege - which she describes as being 'like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.' She spends much of the piece unpacking this, with a list of privileges she has registered in her own life. This is important, because it is only by noticing specific examples that the invisibility of privilege starts to dissolve. To take a few such examples, McIntosh's list includes 'I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed' and 'I can swear, or dress in second-hand clothes or not answer letters without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.' In this list of male privileges, we find 'If I do the same task as a woman, and if the measurement is at all subjective, chances are people will think I did a better job' and 'On average, I am not interrupted by women as often as women are interrupted by men.' This heterosexual privilege list includes 'Expressing affection in most social situations and not expecting hostile or violent reactions from others', along with thirty or so other examples. I leave it to you to find or compile your own examples of class privilege, able-bodied privilege, neurotypical privilege, cisgender privilege, Christian privilege and so on.

Privilege is one reason why it is terribly dangerous to allow almost all positions of power in this world to be occupied by rich, white males. It isn't that being rich, or white, or male makes you a bad person - that would be a radical misinterpretation of the concept of privilege - but it does make it terribly difficult to understand the problems of those less fortunate than yourself. It is probably also fair to say that most people tend to avoid taking actions and positions which would threaten their own positions of privilege. This is why we see the same Tory MP who had no problem with claiming £749 expenses for a fancy television for his second home making strident, apparently straight-faced condemnations of people on benefits 'playing the system' after he became Britain's Employment Minister. This is why those of us who aren't rich should be horrified - for good, practical reasons, not just on principle - that almost half of the people in the American Congress are millionaires, and why feminists are right to be deeply uncomfortable that it includes only a third as many women as the rate in the general population.

You will probably find, in your own life, that people occasionally accuse you of not really getting their problems. Try not to take it too hard - you probably don't, unless you've been through the same thing, or maybe if you've spent some time listening carefully and thinking about it. That's not an indictment of you or your character - it's hard understanding the crap that other people have to put up with! They probably don't completely understand your problems either, but it's usually best to avoid getting into a competition about who suffers worst or fails to understand the most - it's not really about that, and people tend to feel like you're negating their grievances if your response is to keep emphasising the problems that other people also have.

The main point here is that our own positions of privilege are very rarely obvious to us, and that makes it very easy to be unfair to people who don't share them. If you are interested in 'going from pro-equality in spirit to pro-equality in deed', as this Shrub article puts it, be aware that it is not as easy as we would like it to be. Of course, you may not be interested in investing time and effort in this at all - and that, as they say, is your privilege.

With thanks to TheLady for feedback on an earlier draft, and Aerobe for providing some handy links and ideas to get me started.

I've talked a lot about sexism here and in other places, but let's talk about privilege. I have it! Several forms, in fact. For starters, I'm white. That makes things easier for me in ways I don't even notice on a day-to-day basis, and that strikes to the heart of what privilege is: it's an advantage that the universe just handed you. You didn't ask for it, you didn't earn it, but it's there nonetheless, making the world around you just seem to fit you better. If you have privileges, you often don't notice them unless you look for them or someone points them out.

What are my other privileges with regard to my writing career? Being born into a family that loved books was a big one. If someone doesn't teach and encourage you to read, if nobody hands you that first amazing book and says "This is cool; I think you will like this" the spark doesn't get lit. You go do something else with your life instead. Writing is a learning-intensive occupation; there are lots of individual skills you have to master and internalize to write a publishable novel.

I'm a product of public schools, but my parents bought a house in the best district in town. And that took a middle-class income that lots of families didn't enjoy. It also involved my parents caring that I got a good education; that's another advantage I had that some of my friends whose parents thought of school as free babysitting really didn't.

Other things? As a teenager, I said I wanted to write, and my folks didn't just laugh at me and tell me to get my head out of the clouds. They got me a typewriter, and later, bought me a computer. More money! Not lots, but more than some folks had. Also? That whole education thing: my parents didn't make me get a job when I was a teenager because they wanted me to focus on my grades and get into college. And it worked; thanks to them not making me work on anything but school, I had a very high GPA and got a full-ride scholarship at a small state university. And looking at the student loan debt many people are laboring to pay off now, that feels like a big damn deal. (Did I have any prospects for getting into a school like Yale or MIT? There was never any suggestion I might get into a school like that, and so I didn't try. That's arguably a point of non-privilege.) 

But the other part of that is, I never had to work in fast food or retail on the weekends in high school. I got to work on getting my first 1,000,000 words of bad prose out of my system instead. And that's a privilege.

Did I grow up in a small, isolated city? Yes; I had a lot of learning to do once I got out of there. Did I grow up in a sexist culture in which my needs and safety were regularly treated as less important than men's desires? Yep. Was a close family member emotionally and sometimes physically abusive? Why, yes. Did I nearly get raped when I was 12, and suffer from untreated anxiety and depression for years and years afterward? Yep yep. 

But those disadvantages don't erase the other advantages I got. Privileges aren't "bad". Everybody wants them! They don't remove the need for hard work, usually ... but they do often make your hard work pay off more quickly and with much bigger results.

So when someone asks you to check your privilege ... he or she isn't calling you a bad person*. He or she is asking you to reconsider your statements and beliefs in light of advantages (your gender, your race, your socio-economic class, etc.) that you have that you might not be taking into account. 

* Well, not unless he or she phrases it like "Check your privilege, you morally bankrupt dingleberry!" Then it's a clear case of insult. But you should still probably check it just to be sure.

Priv"i*lege (?), n. [F. privilege, L. privilegium an ordinance or law against or in favor of an individual; privus private + lex, legis, law. See Private, and Legal.]


A peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor; a right or immunity not enjoyed by others or by all; special enjoyment of a good, or exemption from an evil or burden; a prerogative; advantage; franchise.

He pleads the legal privilege of a Roman. Kettlewell.

The privilege birthright was a double portion. Locke.

A people inheriting privileges, franchises, and liberties. Burke.

2. Stockbroker's Cant

See Call, Put, Spread, etc.

Breach of privilege. See under Breach. -- Question of privilege Parliamentary practice, a question which concerns the security of a member of a legislative body in his special privileges as such. -- Water privilege, the advantage of having machinery driven by a stream, or a place affording such advantage. [ U. S.] -- Writ of privilege Law, a writ to deliver a privileged person from custody when arrested in a civil suit. Blackstone.

Syn. -- Prerogative; immunity; franchise; right; claim; liberty. -- Privilege, Prerogative. Privilege, among the Romans, was something conferred upon an individual by a private law; and hence, it denotes some peculiar benefit or advantage, some right or immunity, not enjoyed by the world at large. Prerogative, among the Romans, was the right of voting first; and, hence, it denotes a right of precedence, or of doing certain acts, or enjoying certain privileges, to the exclusion of others. It is the privilege of a member of Congress not to be called in question elsewhere for words uttered in debate. It is the prerogative of the president to nominate judges and executive officers. It is the privilege of a Christian child to be instructed in the true religion. It is the prerogative of a parent to govern and direct his children.


© Webster 1913.

Priv"i*lege (?), v. t. [imp. & p. p. Privileged (?); p. pr. & vb. n. Privileging.] [Cf. F. privil'egier.]


To grant some particular right or exemption to; to invest with a peculiar right or immunity; to authorize; as, to privilege representatives from arrest.

To privilege dishonor in thy name. Shak.


To bring or put into a condition of privilege or exemption from evil or danger; to exempt; to deliver.

He took this place for sanctuary, And it shall privilege him from your hands. Shak.


© Webster 1913.

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