(Via Neil Gaiman on Tumblr) John Scalzi has written an awesome article, called Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is. In it, he uses an analogy to MMORPGs to explain what privilege means, while trying not to call it privilege. He does an awesome job.
Dudes. Imagine life here in the US — or indeed, pretty much anywhere in the Western world — is a massive role playing game, like World of Warcraft except appallingly mundane, where most quests involve the acquisition of money, cell phones and donuts, although not always at the same time. Let’s call it The Real World. You have installed The Real World on your computer and are about to start playing, but first you go to the settings tab to bind your keys, fiddle with your defaults, and choose the difficulty setting for the game. Got it?
Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.
Neil Gaiman suggests reading the comments, too, which I'm doing (there are a lot of them) and a decent number are affirming and positive. But some of them are just making me sad. For instance, Prof.Pedant says:
My problem with the use of the word ‘privilege’ is the reflexive implication that in a perfect society no one would have ‘privilege’ and everyone would be treated like a ‘gay/minority/handicapped/female’ – i.e. badly. I haven’t thought of a good word to use instead, but that word needs to imply that the default we all want is to be treated with a reality-based version of the dignity, respect, and opportunities with which many straight white males are treated. More fairness equals more good.
The word privilege doesn't imply that at all. What privilege means is that this imbalance exists, and all people with privilege can, and should, do about it is to know they have it, know why they have it, and try not to contribute to the marginalization that makes the fact of our privilege notable.
I might be wrong -- I'm middle-class, white, I present as male -- but my understanding is that in a perfect world, everyone would have privilege. They would be extended the privilege of the benefit of doubt, of assuming that they're good, honest, hardworking people unless there's a good reason to think otherwise specifically about them.