Nobody likes the concept of privilege. Being told you have privilege makes you feel like the person is calling you an entitled prick that has never had to work a day in their life. People are the heroes and heroines of their own story, and having someone claim that all of their tribulations weren’t that bad can come off as patronizing. Of course, not many people are aware of privilege because it’s invisible. It’s like a ghost, but not like some harmless Caspar bullshit, it’s some mean poltergeist asshole. It’s all up in everyone’s face, just wrecking their shit.

Now, I’m not going to list out privileges because fuck lists. If you like lists and are offended at my dismissal of them, you can look at Peggy McIntosh’s Invisible Knapsack. It does a fair job of looking at white privilege and provides a good introduction to privilege in general. Since you’re a list-lover, I’ll even give you a fucking Buzzfeed page where you can do a quiz. What I’m going to do is examine a specific aspect of my life and see how privilege fits into it.

I am currently a university student studying social work. I am doing well because I’m a smart guy. I do all the reading in a timely fashion; I study hard; I have quality writing skills; some might say I earn my grades because of my effort and intellect.

How did my intellect develop? Well, I read lots and write lots. In fact, you’re reading some of my writing right now! How did I get into reading and writing though? I grew up in a home where my parents were both university educated, and they would read to me as a child. This instilled in me a love of reading that I have carried with me to this day. We also had enough wealth to place me in extracurricular activities that allowed me to focus on my personal development, allowing me to explore different paths my life could take. My intellect as it relates to my current grades is also affected by the amount of time I have to dedicate to studying. Again, through no contribution of my own, my parents had the economic foresight (and available resources) to invest in an RESP – which allowed me to graduate from my first post-secondary art degree without any debt, allowing me to collect enough money to pursue this second degree without a side-job interfering with my studying time.

Yes, I have exerted some willpower and made some choices in my life, and I could have just as easily chosen the much more fulfilling life path of a debilitating cocaine addiction, but my point is that the reason I even have the opportunities for choice that I do was foretold long before I contributed anything meaningful to it. I will likely succeed in my life goals, but certainly not due to any kind of meritocracy, even despite my genuine merits.

Does this mean that I am the result of my parents’ status and nothing more? Partly, but it would be naive to assume that my parents were not privy to privileges of their own. Class, and to an even greater extent racial, privilege is so entrenched in our genealogy that consequences from centuries ago can influence the lives we live today.

What does this mean for me and my classmates? We are graded on equal terms, yet compared to someone who had a much more tumultuous childhood, how is equal grading fair when one of us has had a significant head start? Let’s generalize this some more here. How is equal opportunity in any situation fair if there are those of us who start the race just a few feet from the finish line? Would a drive toward fairness not necessitate a redress of this discrepancy? Everyone seems to be in agreement that discrimination is, you know, bad, when it comes to hiring practices and so on: it’s in our Charter, but we seem to fall short when it comes to addressing the discrimination or privilege that is inherent in spewing out of our mothers’ vaj.

It’s like if we went into a store, and certain people were given a million bucks just for walking in the door. Nobody asked for the million bucks, but that does not negate the fact that they received it. Now, the store doesn’t charge more on any item for any particular person, so the prices themselves aren’t discriminatory, but the system itself of unequal distribution of privilege is.

This is a very brief example, examining only one aspect of one privilege out of the many that I possess. I do not feel guilty for my leg up; as I explained, I did not choose this life. I am, however, benefiting from this system of privilege at the cost that others pay for me, and I would be a massive asshole if I just settled in for the cushy ride.

What about you? What about your success? Where did it come from? It’s hard to tell because privilege is invisible. If only there were a list that could give people some insight…