The fear of a privileged point of view – Challenge Journal #1

Before coming to the University of Michigan and taking part in some self-awareness exercises, I had not considered myself to have privilege. I mean, I was a female coming from a poor/middle class family and town with no exceptional talents or opportunities growing up. I went to school, played some sports, worked at a fast food place, and had some friends. Middle average at best.

In media today, the word “privilege” is thrown around a lot. It was one of those buzz words I had heard but didn’t really know what it meant, like “sustainable” or “diversification.” I knew “privilege” had negative connotations and did not think it really applied to me because it was not really a part of my world. In my hometown, everyone basically came from the same money and opportunities, so the idea of privilege had never occurred to me.

But now I know that I am privileged: privileged to be able to attend a great university, that my parents love and support my desire to go to college, that I have no major disabilities that would deter me from attending college, that my parents are both working and able and willing to help with my tuition payments, and for so much more. Everyone has their own privileges, whether they acknowledge them or not.

But the point is, I had believed for the most part of my life that I was not privileged. I had carried myself without acknowledging that I had opportunities that others did not. I had spoken my mind and given my opinion without thinking that others may have a different experience and point of view. And the day that I realized this, I vowed to always “check” my privilege before saying anything or writing anything I was not an expert on.

Unfortunately for me, this promise to myself had turned into a little voice in the back of my head every time I went to speak in class on a tough topic or write something of substance.

What do you know about that? You’ve never done any research on it. You don’t even read the newspaper. Who cares about your opinion? 

I wanted to write about something important and have a real, valid opinion, but I was so afraid that what I say would be considered privileged or ignorant that I would stop.

I began to deal with this fear in Gateway last year; for the final project, I chose to do a presentation about sexual assault and sexual violence. Now, even though I have the privilege of never having first-hand experience, I had second-hand experience and was always very interested in the effects on survivors. I wanted to learn and write and teach about something that really mattered to me. But I had that little voice in the back of my head again.

What gives you the right to speak about sexual violence? Why do you care so much about it? It’s way too personal of a subject to be talking about. It’s only going to make actual survivors uncomfortable and resentful toward you. 

I snubbed that nagging little voice by doing a TON of research. I learned about the formal effects (i.e. PTSD, increased anxiety, etc.) as well as the informal effects that they don’t list on websites that actual survivors reported on anonymous forums. I learned about the many branches and trap doors of sexual violence and how just recently it is becoming normalized to talk about. I learned that, even with my privileged opinion, I can still do good by continuing the conversation and teaching others what it is all about and why it should be able to be talked about.

Although I cannot “solve” the fear of others viewing my point of view as privileged or ignorant, I can do research and learn as much that I can and then acknowledge my privilege. Acknowledge that what I am saying may not be immersed in experience and first-hand knowledge, but it is still an informed opinion worth speaking.

3 thoughts to “The fear of a privileged point of view – Challenge Journal #1”

  1. Hi Alexis,

    I think you make a great point here. College students are in a unique position where we are constantly re-understanding our own identities in the context of a new space but simultaneously required to pretend that we have mastered some new area of academia in the course of a semester. I also think your solution is great. acknowledging your privilege is beneficial in two ways: you provide transparency for the reader, and you check your own self-doubt.

    I wonder if looking at the scope of your project might be helpful to you (I am writing as one person with one perspective that does not purport to be anything comprehensive). Or also doing the opposite–writing on something you consider yourself an expert on because of your own unique experiences, and assessing the differences between that work and the other one you identify. Comparing the two types of work might help you understand where you might be missing something, or perhaps assuage many of your concerns.

  2. Hi Alexis, I think your journal has a lot of interesting thoughts in it. You’re totally right in that, at times, it can feel intimidating to write about certain topics since we don’t feel we possess the privilege to do them justice. Still, as you discussed, acknowledging that privilege in your writing goes a long way toward establishing credibility and trust with your audience, which makes your writing all the more impactful. I’m wondering if you might try to develop a ritual that incorporates this idea and allows you to prepare for writing about some of these topics that you worry you are not in a position to speak on.

  3. Hey Alexis! Great post, and I can totally relate to how you’re feeling when it comes to privilege. I too never realized how privileged I was before coming to college, as, like you mentioned, my hometown was all the same, and my writing never really incorporated this privilege until coming to college. But, like others have mentioned in comments above, acknowledging your privilege, and stating that place you’re coming from when entering the conversation of a topic that may be sensitive is a way to combat this fear. Maybe your pre-writing rituals can be related to this fear. Before you sit down with a new topic, think about those privileges, whether they be your own or someone else’s. Write them down and don’t run from them, acknowledging them can go a long way.

    Thanks for sharing as this is something I struggle with, as well. Good luck! 🙂

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