Bad things can happen to anyone and it’s not OK. No one wants to be hurt, belittled, or insulted. It doesn’t feel good. However, if a bad thing happens to you and you happen to come from a privileged group, that doesn’t mean that you are oppressed. It just means that something bad happened to you.
Privilege in a social justice context does not mean that bad things don’t happen to you. It doesn’t mean that you will never feel sad or hurt or that someone will never act in violence against you. It just means that if/when these things happen it is not because of oppression. It’s because you had very bad luck.
It’s hard for people to understand that. When we engage in conversations regarding the ways oppression affects marginalized groups in specifically, for example, violence against female bodies, the privileged group feels left out and that their needs aren’t being met.
On the one hand they’re right because that particular discussion ISN’T about them but more importantly even if a man has experienced violence at the hands of a woman (which is a problem) that does not make it a cultural norm.
If you are skinny and can’t find clothes in a store that isn’t because skinny people have it just as bad as fat people.
If someone makes fun of you for being white that doesn’t mean you are a victim of racism.
Just because you are having a bad time does not mean you are a victim of systematic oppression.
Similarly, just because you are a member of the oppressed group and are having a good time at life it doesn’t mean that oppression isn’t real. If you are black and have never been called a nigger, it doesn’t mean racism is over.
If you are a woman who has never been paid less than a man that doesn’t mean sexism isn’t real.
If you’re fat and your wardrobe is awesome that doesn’t mean fat shaming isn’t real.
It just means that that person is having a good time. Their success does not mean that the greater group is no longer oppressed any more than a privileged person’s struggle mean that that group is suddenly oppressed.
On a micro, person to person level, we all have problems. Everyone has problems. But on a macro level, on a society level, these things play out differently. When we talk about privilege and oppression we’re talking about the macro level and how it effects our micro interactions.
So if you’re in an privileged group, the next time you see someone who is speaking from a place of marginalization and your reaction is to tell a story about something similar that happened to you, stop. Think about your experience. Before you open your mouth, question whether or not most people in your station, be it thin, male, white, educated, etc has had a similar experience.
If the answer is no, then you are not oppressed. You are just having a bad time. Don’t take up space with your story. Sit down, listen, and support.