For most of us, privilege lies in having a roof over your head, good health and good health insurance, a steady source of income, food in the fridge, access to a dignified mode of transport, a vacation or two every year, a lover, husband or wife, caring family and friends…
For many others, it’s having been brought up in a middle class family – if not higher. And of course, of having had the ability to maintain that class growing up, and even of having the ability to upgrade one’s status. Most of us are aware of these privileges as aspects of our lives that we are thankful for at some level. We count our privileges whenever adversity strikes in order to cheer ourselves up. Yet what troubles me about privilege is how it gets muted out of many conversations, reactions and situations.
I am going to list the main privileges as I personally see them, and try to recount a way each form manifests in everyday life:
- Male privilege: Just look at our male dominant culture, across all social and economic classes. Disastrous. It needs a whole set of articles to even start to do it justice, so I will focus closely on the middle and upper-class manifestations of this privilege. Let’s talk about the crème de la crème of men in our culture – and how many of them are clueless, selfish and/or dismissive of all the benefits that women and society in general provide them from the very day they are born. An obvious manifestation of this is how a husband’s career as the self-proclaimed default breadwinner of the household eclipses any chance of their wives having a career too. If the wife does decide to go out to work, she’s still responsible for the many family chores. She is also the one that has to pay for the help she hires. When it comes to job interviews, most employers are happy to recognise an impressive young woman with many visible accomplishments to her name. Few recognise the humongous amount of effort this young woman has had to put in to become the person in front of them when compared to any young man of the same age and calibre. Result, same salary at best, if not significantly lower.
- Class privilege: Look at the middle class at all its levels, and how it looks down on the lower class. Even if many are truly happy to give to charity over Eid and Christmas, the judgments never stop. The working class are lazy, ungrateful, un-whatever. There is no recognition of the many other factors that have contributed to their situation – many individuals were downgraded from the middle class over the years due to rising prices and poor overall economic conditions – plus many, many others. Manifestation: a family living in a fully owned house with two cars and over 300k saved in the bank ask a plumber to fix their bathroom. When he asks them to pay, he’s immediately asked to lower his fee. Why? Explain that! So what if he asks for an extra amount? Another manifestation is to consider the elite K-12 school that one may have had the privilege to attend – or more precisely, the school that one’s parents had the privilege to pay for – and how this affects employment, or even university prospects, both inside and outside Jordan. If studying outside Jordan, did you go East or West??!!
I have to say that after 20+ years of work, I have had the pleasure of working with all sorts of people. The high achievers have come from all classes and backgrounds regardless of the education that they brought to the job when they started out.
- Cultural privilege: This describes how the ‘chosen ones’ treat others (as they define them). Utter superiority. As if their superior knowledge and their imported stances on issues are originally their own. Here, I am talking about people on the right and the left, and the in-betweens as well. From the religious superiority that many have absorbed from mainstream religious talk shows and fatwas issued over social media, to the claims from the left that the people of this nation are utter idiots. One of the many manifestations of this is that we have a two-sided recruitment policy within many establishments around the country: those who decline liberal-looking applicants, both men and woman, and those declining to hire religious-looking men and women.
- Racial privilege: I wish I could talk about white privilege more, but it’s not manifested much in my own everyday life here in Amman – yet one can argue as to the enormous, worldwide effect of white privilege. To go back to us in Jordan, are we a racist culture? Many, myself included, would answer with a big ‘yes’. Just look at how badly we treat foreign working class people, from Egyptian workers to those from the rich cultures of the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, amongst others. We think we are better than them; we think we are superior by birth-right. Collectively, we pay them peanuts in comparison to what we pay ourselves for work. We rarely give them time off; we take their passports away – that’s kidnapping by the way – and we don’t allow them to leave the house alone. All of this baseless fear stems from an imaginary system that is supposed to blame us if they do anything wrong and a badly regulated industry that forces them to agree to poor conditions, and then treats and advertises them as merchandise – removed from the human dignity they rightfully deserve.
So what do we do with all this privilege? Let’s not mute it from the many conversations and situations that we encounter every day for a start. We need to be aware of the countless ways some of us have it better than others, whether these are the privileges we were born with, the ones we were born into, or the ones we gained through hard work.