Lucy’s Lowdown: life’s unequal race track

The next installment in WSS’ opinion editor Lucy Polyak’s column series.

Welcome back; I’m so glad that my first column in this series didn’t scare you away! This time I’m tackling the issue of privilege, as in what it is and what it means for the world around us.

Recently, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the topic of privilege. Many people often fear this word, because more times than not its usage can mean that an uncomfortable conversation is about to happen. However, some minor discomfort is a small price to pay in order to have a society that understands its inhabitants better.

Alyssa Skala
Lucy Polyak ’19 smiles about her next publication of Lucy’s Lowdown.

My favorite way to describe privilege is with this analogy: imagine you’re standing on a racing track, getting ready to run the most important race of your life. The person in charge of the race has everyone line up in a straight line in a random order. You look down the line and see that the people on the inside of the track have a lot shorter of a run than the people near the outside of the track. You want to complain that this isn’t a fair race, but the starting gun goes off before you can get a word out and suddenly it’s time to run.

Now, the people on the inside of the track didn’t do anything special to be given that spot, that was just the spot they happened to be at. And it’s not their fault that they were placed there either since all of this was random assignment. However, this set up would not make for an equitable competition, as some runners have it clearly easier than others. Are you starting to see where I’m heading with this?

People all over the world are in metaphorical spots on that track that can make things in their lives easier or harder for many different reasons. Race, gender, sex, and sexuality are all commonly recognized components to this, but things like socioeconomic status, mental and physical health, and citizenship are a few of the many other factors to privilege that people aren’t always keen to remember.

Because there are so many different facets of what can affect one’s privilege, people often don’t realize how privileged they are, or even that we live in a society that systematically has kept the privileged people on top. This becomes a major problem when people who haven’t yet recognized how privileged they are begin making ignorant statements pertaining to what they think is fair to them, regardless of how it affects others.

This becomes a major problem when people who haven’t yet recognized how privileged they are begin making ignorant statements pertaining to what they think is fair to them.”

There have been some events lately, including the controversy over the move to Heroes of Troy homecoming court, that have upset me because people with a great amount of privilege have been trying to pretend that they weren’t born at an easier spot on life’s race track. I’ve seen people trying to explain that everyone naturally is able to access the same resources as everyone else if they just work hard, but frankly, this isn’t the case. We live in a society that isn’t innately equitable.

Don’t get me wrong here, it’s definitely not a bad thing to be privileged; people can’t control if they were born into privilege or not. The most important thing about having a lot of privilege in society is knowing how to properly use it. Don’t just be a bystander to the problems of the world. Instead, be an ally to those who might not fit the same mold as you. I challenge you to actively listen to people whose stories aren’t exactly like yours. You might just learn things you could have never imagined.