Leveling the Playing Field: The Difference Between Privilege and Equality
By Ali Owens
I’ve been noticing something lately, and I don’t like it.
It’s becoming more and more common in our current culture of social unrest: somewhere along the line, some folks out there have gotten it into their heads that “equality” and “special privilege” mean exactly the same thing.
The irony is that those two concepts are actually polar opposites of one another. Groups that fight for equality - whether on the grounds of race, gender, sexual preference, or anything else - exist as part of the fight to eradicate special privilege; to level the playing field. But what the intolerant people of the world are taking and running with is the entirely inaccurate idea that oppressed sectors of society believe that they should hold more power than their oppressors.
This is absolutely not true.
When a woman asks for the societal right to show her nipples, she is asking for the same privilege that is given to a man. She’s not asking that her nipples be allowed to be on display while men’s must remain covered.
When a person of color asks for fair treatment by police, he is asking for the same privilege that is given to a white person - not for unarmed white people to be beaten, shot, and killed.
When a secular American asks that local laws uphold the separation of church and state as written in the Constitution, she is asking for the right to believe, or not believe, as she sees fit - not requesting to deny freedom of belief to religious groups.
When a gay man asks for the right to marry someone he loves, he is asking for a civil liberty afforded to heterosexual couples for hundreds of years - not demanding that straight people be barred from marriage.
Simply put, oppressed groups that fight for social change aren’t looking for a role-reversal; they’re just looking for equal treatment. It’s as easy as that.
This is exactly why feminists are not “man-haters” and people of color aren’t “reverse racists” and secular Americans aren’t “persecuting Christians” and homosexuals don’t want to “turn everyone gay.” Those arguments are not legs to stand on - and anyone who uses them to justify their own discrimination against an oppressed group of people is grossly misinformed.
Like it or not, we are leveling the playing field in America. A bit too slowly, if you ask me - but nonetheless, progress is being made. People who discriminate, however, see this as a threat. They detect a decrease in their own privilege when an oppressed group makes a breakthrough. In the wake of the SCOTUS same-sex marriage ruling, for example, everyone in America can now wed - not just heterosexual, cis-gender couples. And the anti-gay community is throwing a fit, because of the supposed negative impact the ruling has on their lives. How does gay marriage really affect straight people? Well, it doesn’t - but what it does affect is the level of privilege those straight people are allowed to have. By legalizing same-sex marriage, the seesaw is leveling out. The anti-gay community sees their privilege declining - though they still have more of that privilege than homosexuals - and cries persecution, claiming that “special rights” are being given to gay people. In reality, we’re just getting that much closer to equality - but equality is no fun to hoarders of privilege.
This happens across the board, with all forms of privilege: white privilege, male privilege, Christian privilege, cis privilege. I’ve come across people with every one of these privileges who will state, in all seriousness, that they are being discriminated against by being forced to stop discriminating against other groups. When privilege is all you’ve ever known, the absence of privilege feels, to some, like oppression.
But what we all need to understand is that the absence of privilege is not oppression - it’s equality. And equality and oppression are mutually exclusive. Mathematically, they cannot coexist; they cancel each other out.
Statistically speaking, the majority of Americans have some form of privilege or another. So it’s up to everyone to keep it in check - and in doing so, we’ll be making the world a better place for generations to come.