We are a part of a society that is built on multiple inequalities, which severely dis-privileges one group of people at the cost of others. Can a privileged person give up or surrender their privilege? No! It is socially conferred, whether or not we wish for it. It is not something that can be detached from oneâ€™s identity. However, a privileged person can always try to be a good ally.
What does this mean? A good ally does much more than just believe in equality. As an ally, you acknowledge your position of privilege and oppression, and you want to change this pattern. You are willing to listen to people when they point out your biases, and you commit to making efforts to not repeat the same behaviour. You also promise to give the platform to those who do not have the privileges you have, and give them a chance to voice their own life stories and experiences.
Why do we need allies? We need allies because we want to ensure social justice for all. In other words, as allies we need to fight for equal rights for all, and for fair distribution of resources. Martin Luther King Jr. explains why we should fight for equal rights, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." Popular Black writer-academic Roxane Gay says in her book 'Bad Feminist': "If we turn away and ignore injustice, it will indirectly foster inequality in the world. All too often, when we see injustices, both great and small, we think, That's terrible, but we do nothing. We say nothing. We let other people fight their own battles. We remain silent because silence is easier.' Qui tacet consentire videtur' is Latin for 'Silence gives consent.' When we say nothing, when we do nothing, we are consenting to these trespasses against us."
In order to be a good ally and to facilitate changing the status quo, the first step involves learning about and understanding our own privileges. It is only then that one can work towards an equitable society. We have to identify and acknowledge our privilege. This is not easy because it is usually invisible to the person at the receiving end of advantages of privilege. Where we have privilege, we tend to assume it is acceptable and normal. Hence, when someone without that same privilege calls attention to our unearned advantage, we may get defensive, and may fail to acknowledge our own privilege.
One way to learn how to identify and acknowledge privilege is by listening empathetically to the stories of people who do not share our privileges. It is also important to do so without judging people or their circumstances. Empathy is defined as the ability "to perceive the internal frame of reference of another with accuracy, and with the emotional components and meanings which pertain thereto as if one were the other person, but without ever losing the 'as if' condition"4. Now, while listening to people's struggle in maneuvering the system without privilege, because you have not faced with similar struggle, you may notice that some part of you becomes dismissive of their experience. Instead, actively seek to accept that different people's experience will vary depending on various identity we carry, and each and every story is valid.
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