Privilege and Entitlement: Feeling Left Out in Social Justice

This post is going to upset some people. I’m aware of that, and I hope I am going to get feedback, because the point of this post is to be better listeners.

I am progressive straight, white, and almost everyone assumes I am a man. I am hardly ever “left out” of anything. The classic “every man” looks a lot like me; if a story features someone who looks like me, no one labels it as a genre; no one questions why a white man is on screen or page, unlike a woman or a person of color.

I’m almost never left out of anything, except when it comes to social justice.

I have a lot of experience being included in groups I am not at all proud of being in. And I didn’t choose to be in them, and maybe wouldn’t have if I had been asked, but this is me. This is who I am, and I am trying to be a person I am proud of.

I see a lot of people, almost daily, complaining about being asked to think about their privilege. I’ve seen “Not All Men” become so common that it is an ironic hashtag. I’ve seen white women complain about the term “White Feminism” and the lack of intersectionality. There are black men who fail to see that being a man still elevates them in our culture. And there are a lot of white people who are oppressed by classism and access to resources who claim that it negates the idea that their skin tone causes the world to treat them less harshly than if they were Latinx or Black.

I sometimes feel like social justice isn’t about me.

Some of you are likely thinking to yourselves, “Well, it isn’t, dingbat.” We’re both wrong, though. Because justice is about all of us. If my rights are incremental, then those increments can be shifted to give or take things. That’s not how rights should be. If the people I lovewomen, gay men and lesbians, people of color, and poor folksdon’t have the same rights as Bill Gates, we are not living in the world I want us to live in. They all deserve to be treated as full members of the community until due process says otherwise. I don’t deserve that if I don’t demand it for everyone.

Social justice can definitely bruise an ego; I read people saying that we need to hear less from straight, white men, and that is painful as someone who wants to be a writer and a speaker. It is scary for someone who feels called to help lead us to the Beloved Community.

The only way out, though, is through.

I refuse to be part of going backwards. We can either reinforce the systems that protect privilege of people like myself, or we can do away with them so that the best people rise to the top regardless of the circumstances of their birth. The only way it truly gets better is to elevate those other voices, first, so that they are ultimately heard. In the meantime, I focus on being someone who is saying things that help, things that heal, and saying them well enough that I will also rise.

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