I was prompted by an interview with English Photographer Daniel Meadows in the British Journal of Photography, ‘I was a privileged white man, but I was trying to do something radical’ In it he says:
“Most of the people I photographed would have thought I was posh. My dad ran a country estate. I was brought up with a whole load of prejudices and have spent most of my life trying to get rid of them. I was taught that gentlemen don’t reveal their feelings, then when I was eight, I was sent to boarding school. I hated it.”
The Oxford English Dictionary defines privilege as “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.1“
Acknowledgments of privilege appear increasingly common, and maybe that’s a good thing. A recognition of the advantages one has enjoyed, whether deserved or not. Moreover, it serves as an awareness of that privileged status, as many who are privileged may be oblivious to it. I am left with the impression that such acknowledgements seem to serve as a means to convey empathy (I presume to those less privileged).
However, it’s important to remember that privilege is relative and what one considers privilege can vary across multiple dimensions. It could be wealth, class, health, race, etc. Often these are things we are born into and thus have no control.
My mother had always emphasized to my brother and me how fortunate we were, whether it was having enough food to eat or being born healthy. The depth and scope of this good fortune became especially evident in school during a course on Socially Engaged Art. I found that many of my fellow Social Science students had endured childhood abuse, which seemingly motivated them to pursue careers in social work. This realization made me reflect on my own fortunate upbringing, free from abuse.
While prior to this, I had used the word ‘lucky,’ the growing prevalence of acknowledging privilege led me to adopt that terminology as well. However, I am now beginning to question whether the term also covertly serves as a subtle indicator of wealth and social class.
- The term “privilege” comes from the Latin word “privilegium,” which is derived from “privus” meaning “private” or “individual” and “lex” meaning “law.” In ancient Rome, a “privilegium” referred to a law or legal right that was granted to a specific individual or group. It denoted a special exemption or advantage that was not afforded to everyone. ↩︎