Checking My Privilege

Some seem to think that the phrase “check your privilege” is a phrase reserved for white males. However, if you truly understand how privilege works, you’ll know that women, black people, and others can have various forms of privilege as well.

For some reason, if you try to explain to most white people that they receive benefits because the color of their skin, they immediately shut down and provide various anecdotes of how it’s not real. “NU-UH, I WAS POOR.” “NO, I GOT PICKED ON AT MY MAJORITY BLACK MIDDLE SCHOOL.”  It’s all out of fear? But why? Admitting you have privileges isn’t a bad thing. It’s actually good. When you recognize it you can work towards creating real equality.

As a black woman, some would think I don’t have many privileges, but I certainly do. Especially working in Korea. I am able-bodied, light-skinned, a US citizen, female*, heterosexual, and financially doin’ pretty well.

(*In the case of being an ESL teacher in Korea, female is preferred.)

I have certainly become most aware of my privilege of having a US passport. I can hear it in the tones of people I meet when they assume I’m from somewhere in Africa, but then I tell them no, I’m actually from the U.S. Their smiles get wider and their eyes get brighter. Being a foreigner from the western world certainly comes with a lot more benefits than if I were from Ghana, Nigeria, or Gabon. Koreans (and many others) tend to have a narrow image of what Africa is. And not only am I just a westerner, but I’m an American. Migooksaram: A person from that “beautiful land”.

I notice my light-skinned benefits in the treatment I receive while in Korea versus stories of darker skinned women here.  People approach me differently, are kinder, less blunt in their words. I can get a job more easily here because I pass some paper bag test. Korea like most other countries, have been conditioned to value light-skin. Whiteness. It’s odd because many of my students are beautifully brown, but somehow a loooott of the adults are pale, especially the women… Hmm. But of course this is not just a Korean phenomenon. There are still deep issues of colorism in the U.S. as well.

So all of these privileges I can see and acknowledge. And of course, it’s not as much as a blonde white American woman would receive here, but I do benefit.

What privileges do you experience while abroad?  Do you have trouble admitting privileges? Can you find experiences where you may have received preferential treatment due to one of your privileges?

Further reading: Traveling While Black: On the Pervasive Nature of Colorism…

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