Don’t be ridiculous now. Of course I don’t have blinkers on!
But you do. All of us do to some extent or another. There are even fancy names and sociological theories which explain this blinkers-wearing syndrome (henceforth known as BWS).
The Johari Window theory says we all have our blind spots (where others see things about us that we can’t) as well as an unknown side to ourselves (where we and others both are in the dark). There is the bias blind spot theory where people get a case of BWS from their particular biases. Social conditioning is another buzzword for BWS, and is explained by several different sociological theories. Invisible privilege is just another term for BWS.
Invisible privilege: Where someone experiences a special advantage or immunity without being actually aware they have it. It is invisible to them, therefore when it is discussed how other groups do not have so and so privilege, the ones with invisible privilege often dismiss the idea, while scoffing in derision.
For example a white male goes through life on the “Lowest Difficulty Setting” according to sci-fi writer, Scalzi. Most white men are unaware of just how easier they have it compared to a woman. Furthermore, when women share their observations of unfair privileges, they often are dismissed out of hand by a lot of white men thanks to invisible privilege.
What interests me is the concept of invisible privilege as applied to white people in Western society.
Let me tell you about it.
I was chatting with an Indigenous Australian friend (who prefers to be identified as Aborigine) about how her partner (also of the same race) did not like to speak on the phone, and did not like to talk to people.
Being a white woman (and feminist to boot) with a case of invisible privilege, naturally I assumed the man was just being difficult and putting my friend in the position of having to run around for him. Ordinarily I might have assumed the guy was just shy, but he was anything but that when I observed him being loudly social and outgoing. This man was obviously a chatterbox!
Upon further investigation, I realised something. Aboriginal English is not the same as English. To see an example of what I mean, check out this chapter on Aboriginal English from a handbook used by the courts. There are known problems comprehending English linguistically and conceptually for users of Aboriginal English. Once I realised this, I brought this up with my friend. She agreed and elaborated how her partner didn’t understand other people well because of it. When my friend said this, it hit me like a sledgehammer.
Invisible privilege: because you can't see it.
People. In not really taking note of the skin colour of my friends, I had also blinded myself to the differences that existed. My friends’ partner was an outgoing social person with others of his own colour. Not white people. White people is the standard, and I completely missed how the impact of this might affect my friends. I realised then even if skin colour did not matter to me, there were still differences which impacted both of us based on our place in this society. I was worlds apart from them as a white person, just as a man is worlds away from a woman in a patriarchy.
I know there are countless other issues which I will be blind to and make wrongful assumptions about. How about you? Have you had any moments where you’ve noticed invisible privilege within yourself or in others? What about white privilege? What about hearing privilege?