I have never been one to back away from a political discussion, especially when I feel well informed on the topic. I enjoy hearing many sides of an issue, to improve my general knowledge of different topics. However, there is a tactic that people use against me that I find incredibly inappropriate: telling me I can’t talk about something because of my “privilege”. This is a childish way to say that because of certain inherent characteristics I cannot give my thoughts on certain topics. “Privilege” is something that we can consider and weigh in a discussion, but it should not be the only thing and I would argue that perspective is a more useful device to use in these circumstances.
The substance of any discussion or debate can be broken down into two categories: facts and figures and experiences. Depending on the circumstances or the issue at hand, one of these categories may be given more consideration than the other, but I think both of these are necessary for civil discourse. These categories break down into two terms: privilege and perspective.
Privilege, by my definition, would be based solely in the experiences category. My definition of privilege is that certain societal benefits are conveyed onto a person based solely on their inherent characteristics. Under this idea, privilege affects each person’s experiences because the societal benefits for everyone are different because each of us have different characteristics. However, privilege itself is an abstract concept that cannot be quantitatively measured, so it does not fall into the facts and figures category. It also is not a very convincing device because it joins together a large group of people without recognizing the unique characteristics and experiences of the individual level.
The underlying philosophy here is that if my privilege gives me an advantage in a certain aspect of life, then I cannot comment on that aspect. This allows me very little room to comment on any topic. I am a white, cisgender, healthy male. I have been told that because of my skin color, I cannot talk about racism because my “white privilege” does not allow me to see the plight of the other races and that I am automatically a racist person because my race is the beneficiary of the way society is structured. If I try to talk about gender issues, I am accused of “mansplaining” and I’ve been told that I should not talk about women’s rights if I do not have the requisite female anatomy. In that domain, it doesn’t matter if I am being polite or presenting an argument in a non-confrontational way, it only matters what characteristics I have. If we only consider someone’s privilege in the discussion of ideas, we lose out on what could be some helpful discourse.
I see perspective as consideration using a combination of experiences and facts and figures to influence our understanding. A person can weigh their personal experience with others’ experiences and can use different facts and figures than others to shape their perspective. I find this to be a more comprehensive indicator of what value a person adds to a conversation. We need the facts and figures to understand larger cultural phenomena when the experiences of an individual are atypical examples and we need the experiences to put a name and a face to the discussion.
People are more than their characteristics. They can use information from outside themselves to have discussions about the controversial topics of the day. Privilege is not a valid way to reject ideas. If I can be affected by the proposed policies of a certain group, then I should be able to freely express my ideas about it, regardless of what inherent characteristics I possess.
The broad issue at play here is restricting speech. Some people want to block out opposing perspectives, so they hide behind excuses like privilege to stop the sharing of certain ideas. If you don’t like my ideas, tell me that and maybe we can figure out where we differ and why. All of us should be encouraging open conversation instead of suppressing ideas with which we disagree.
What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know.
If you like this, share with your friends, family, anybody you know. Follow me on Instagram and Twitter @evinkellis. If you have any ideas for a topic you want to discuss or have any questions you want me to answer, you can reach out to me on social media or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.