Check Your Privilege: The Truth Behind the Posters

By: Kacey Gill

Looking around the hallways a few Wednesdays ago, signs reading “CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE” plastered the walls. Check. Your. Privilege. These red and black signs hung on every door and every bathroom stall – unavoidable and indescribably imposing. No matter which direction we went, we were accosted by these three words. Confusion, hurt, and anger ran strong through the student body. Whispers crept through the hallways about the origin of the posters and a faceless person taping them to the walls in the dead of night. Murmurs slithered down the stairs about the meaning of the posters and a personal attack. It’s needless to say, that our response was rather emotional, which is completely understandable. With this said, I think our response was somewhat of a detriment to us. I think it clouded our vision and blinded us. It blinded us from really seeing what these posters might be saying. But this wasn’t the only factor that made us unable to see. So was our ignorance – our ignorance of what privilege really is. We undeniably associate it with the idea of the white man’s privilege in a world full of oppression and subordination. Even more, we undeniably associate it with something that is negative. It is something that, in our minds, goes hand and hand with the suffering and abuse of others. But this perception isn’t true.

Our perception of privilege is skewed. What we see as privilege, what we associate with privilege, what we think it needs to mean is skewed.  The real meaning of privilege doesn’t come with any of the negative connotations that we associate with it now. It simply means, “a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most”. Privilege does not automatically mean that we are stepping on someone in order have that said privilege. It does not mean that we are somehow lesser because we have something someone else doesn’t. It definitely does not mean we are bad people for having that opportunity or experience, nor does it mean we are bad people for not having those same opportunities and experiences. The fact of the matter is, privilege is not synonymous with bad. It is just a fact. Clear, cold, information. As simple as that. Going to this school is a privilege. Having food on our tables is a privilege. Living in a happy home is a privilege. These are all things that some people will get to experience and others, including people in our own community, won’t. None of these are bad, they are just facts. We are all privileged in at least one sense, the sense that we all go to HB, a school that even with all its faults, provides a fantastic education. Think of Malala, shot in the head because she wanted an education like our own. Think of the Boko Harem girls, still missing, kidnapped because they wanted an education like ours. We get an education. We get a fantastic education at that. And because of it, it makes us all irrefutably privileged. Every single one of us.

Now take a step back with me and let’s look at the posters plastering our hallways – “Check Your Privilege”. Although this may be the first time our eyes have seen the phrase, this is not the first time such a message has been seen in America. Princeton University has been grappling with this idea for years. The students have struggled with the concept of what privilege applies to and how deep privilege goes. How do you decide what things are privileges and what things aren’t? How do you take such large ideas such as race and religion and confine them to boxes of “privileged” or “not privileged”? How can you tell if a person’s privilege is just surface level or if it drives deep into their soul and is a core part of their identity? The answers to these questions are unbeknownst to me. I don’t have the wisdom to answer them, nor would I presume to try. I’ve come to the conclusion that some questions are inevitably unanswerable.

But the question of what these signs mean is completely answerable. The point of these signs is to act as a reminder – a reminder to stop and acknowledge our privilege. Acknowledge what we have and appreciate in wholly. Those three words are there to make us stop and reflect. To make us be self-aware. To make us stay grounded. The hardest part of HB life is to keep our feet planted on the floor and not get caught up in the storm of tests, and colleges, and stress. This simple appreciation and acknowledgement for the things we have means a world of difference in making someone who is not as privileged feel comfortable, accepted, and valued. I know that I, although not the most privileged girl at our school, still need to check what I have. I need to take a good long look in the mirror and realize what I have, because too many times I don’t. I get caught up in my petty complaints and stop seeing how lucky I am. I have people who love me. I have a school that offers me countless opportunities to grow and be successful. I have a future that looks bright. I am privileged. So I’m going to check myself. I’m going to be self-aware. I’m going to stay grounded. I’m going to remind myself what I have, and all the people are simply, not as lucky. And most of all, just like those poster’s said, I’m going to be grateful – really, truly, grateful. And that in and of itself will be a great accomplishment.