Monday, July 14, 2008

Privilege or Right?

A comment comment made by ballgame a few weeks ago at Alas got the ball rolling on this current thought.

When it comes to human rights be it gender, race, religious, sexual orientation, or whatever relations we talk about a common topic is privilege. When different sides of an issue cross paths one of the first things to happen will be for all sides to identify who holds privilege over who. Now considering all the possible combinations of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, economic standing, social standing, and other factors its impossible to say that everyone enjoys some measure of privilege over someone else. However one thing that I think that gets lost in the pointing of the fingers over who is privileged over who is the very meaning of privilege.

When various speakers, bloggers, and other people talk about privilege I wonder if by privilege they mean an unfair advantage that one group has but should never have over another or are they talking about a right, ability, or something that everyone should have but one group has it but another does not. Not sure what I mean? Here goes:

As we all know women are more often the targets of rape than men therefore it is more common that men are not as worried about being raped as women. Now does that mean men have the unfair advantage of not worrying as much about being raped or does that mean that neither men or women should have to worry about being raped but at this point in time that is not so? Frankly I would say that neither men nor women should have to worry about being raped but at this time that is not the case. I don't think that men have some unfair advantage that no one should have. If that were the case then it would mean that not worrying about being raped is an unfair advantage and no one should have, implying that everyone should have to worry about being raped?

In the current state of marriage heterosexual couples can marry and (for the most part) homosexuals cannot. Does this mean that heterosexual couples enjoy an unfair advantage over homosexuals that should be removed meaning that neither should be able to marry? Of course not homosexuals should have just as much right and every right to marry as heterosexuals currently have.

Let's take a look at an unfair advantage.

A big time law firm is setup at a college job fair to scout for prospective talent. Under normal circumstances and on a level playing field that law firm should simply be looking for best and brightest upcoming talent. Well let's say this law firm is only looking to hire _______. Yes I left that blank so that you may fill it in with any gender, sexual orientation, religion that YOU FIT. Now do you really thing that it is fair that a law firm is scouting you just because you are ____? Any fair minded person reading this will certainly say hell no thats not fair. I know I wouldn't want to take a job with a law firm that wanted me only because I'm black. First and foremost its not fair to all the qualified asians, latin people, whites, and other races. And second I'd be pretty suspicious of any company that wanted to hire me because I'm black.

Now take that shoe off and put it on the other foot.

Go back and fill in that blank with something that DOES NOT FIT YOU. Now do you really think it is fair that a company is NOT scouting you because you are not _____? Any fair minded person reading this would certainly say hell no that's not fair. I know I would not be pleased if a law firm didn't hire me because I'm black. It would not be fair to all the qualified people who were not ______.

To be checked out by a company just because you are ______ or not to be checked out by a company because you are not ______ is an unfair advantage that NO ONE should have unless its the rare occasional job that specifically requires a certain trait (and that wouldn't be unfair would it?) but other than gender I really can't think of any.

I think that is something we should take into consideration whenever privilege comes up.


Sally said...

I'm starting to dig your blog, keep it coming!

On this issue, it certainly becomes very tricky because the number of people who actually acknowledge that they have ANY privilege is so low. (I don't mean just men here, but those without mental illness or disability, heterosexuals, etc.) People are often blind to what they have because they don't have to experience the other side.

In the example you raise, it has been shown that people do sort of take a step back and examine what it's like to have privilege and to level the playing field. Studies have shown that when you explain affirmative action in its true form (the more qualified candidate wins regardless of race/sex), people- even white men- realize that this is simply righting a wrong rather than giving preference to a person who doesn't deserve the position. In this case, they accept that they might not be the right person for the job after all.

Danny said...

Thanks for the encouragement!

I've always been a little shaky about Affirmative Action. The original intent of it was to ensure the talented minorities had a fair chance at getting jobs. But I do fear that some of the white that do complain about getting looked over may actually be getting unfairly looked over because of AA and that's just as unfair as the minority person getting looked over in my book.

frau sally benz said...

Yes, this does happen a lot actually- mostly because the employers themselves don't really understand what affirmative action is supposed to be. They really do think they're supposed to be giving "preference" to women and minorities, which is, of course, just as unfair. Also, some employers actually tell people that they didn't get a job or a raise b/c of affirmative action and that they're really the ones who would have the job based on merit.

It's because of situations like these that keep making affirmative action such a controversy. In its pure form, however, when designed and implemented correctly, it is really just hiring the right person for the job and encouraging women and minorities to apply (not automatically hiring them).

P.S.- sorry for the name confusion-- I'm playing around with names on blogger =/