Social Justice and the Silent Privilege
I am a tall, white, heterosexual, cisgender, English-speaking man. Needless to say, I haven't faced a lot of hardship for things I can’t control. Let me show you; I’ll continue the list. I was born in an urban centre in a socially liberal country with a progressively-minded father and a mum and older sister who are both social workers.
None of this was of my doing; all of this is to my benefit. I was raised conscious of social justice.
Sensitivity to social issues is not so much intellectual as it is natural for me. Still, trying to define it as discrete from “justice” is difficult. I’ll leave that task to dead men with longer beards (I know).
Let me posit that while justice looks at intentional aggression, social justice critiques subconscious biases and their unintended consequences. Regardless, hopefully we can agree that—whether social or stock—justice has to do with how we treat people.
Social justice champions the ideal that people should not be treated differently based on the random circumstances of their birth or upbringing (e.g., see above). Let me separate these.
I was born male, in a male-associated body. I can’t ignore that this has its advantages, like how I’ll never be bullied or disowned for expressing my gender identity. Even though I come from a liberal background, life’s easier born in this body.
Until I left for university, I was raised in a liberal home, with—not to repeat myself, but—a mum and sister who are both social workers. This is categorically different than the advantages of being cisgender, but it would be obscene to ignore that my upbringing made life easier.
Coming to university, I fit in fine. I had learned the politically correct vernacular at home, and I was familiar with the different identities living in Toronto. Nothing was shocking. I gelled with the progressive atmosphere; it was already in my lungs, and I spoke all the right words.
If I challenged any progressive ideals—and I’ll never pretend I haven’t—it was knowingly.
I can't take credit for this any more than I can take credit for speaking English. Only one thing separates me from countless first year students who are pegged by their peers as bigots: the home I was raised in.
Another thing I was taught growing up: privilege comes with responsibility. Enjoying this social cachet, I’m mindful of the hypocrisy in condemning someone as bigoted for simply being unfamiliar with the lingo that I learned in my own bourgeois liberal upbringing.
This is a defence of the ignorant, not the hateful. The relevance of your background diminishes over time between frosh week and the grave. If any language intends to treat someone badly because of who they are, now that deserves nothing but condemnation.
Thankfully, most of the ‘bigotry’ I’ve seen has been resolved by exchanging dictionaries, not derision. Yes, words matter, but it's our duty to supply the right words and judge others on the content of their character, not their lexicon.