Especially online, where our words will persist as long as the Internet does, we’ve got to say what we mean and mean what we say. To do this, we have to know what we are saying.
- ‘Lived experience’ – Without exception, this is a red herring appeal to the notion that one’s autonomy is the final word, an authority as incontrovertible as Science. Surely you can’t deny what someone’s gone through.
But what they’ve gone through is not necessarily what happened. Rather, it’s what they remember seeing or feeling.
In a previous article, I said that “I was raised to believe…” truly means “It’s how I perceived the way my parents taught me the things I think they taught me.” From our perspective, we understand things to be a certain way, but that doesn’t mean they are.
As contentious an example as I can think of, it may be that a black man’s ‘lived experience’ is that police officers hound him daily with their guns cocked as he makes his way innocently around town. Statistics, however, say otherwise; black men aren’t killed by police as often as it appears in the media. This doesn’t minimize racial profiling and the consequences of non-fatal confrontations between cops and black men; it’s only that their “lived experience” makes any interaction more than it could be.
‘Lived experience’ is as close a claim to an absolute as you can get while maintaining there are no absolutes. One’s ‘lived experience’ is their perspective, not an immovable fact around which we build our understanding of the world.
- ‘Privilege’ – Journalist Sydney J. Harris has this quote: “When I hear somebody sigh, ‘Life is hard.’ I am always tempted to ask, ‘Compared to what?’” So it is with ‘privilege.’
I acknowledge there are “privileges” people may inherit at birth: living in a safe neighborhood, living with both a father and a mother, access to clean water and healthcare, enrollment at high-performing schools, government recognition of their individual liberties, and connections to future employment.
Aside from the nuclear family bit (though that’s founded), most would agree all these instances of, ironically, life experiences are advantageous to a person’s well-being, to their pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.
However, we should recognize that “privilege” infers a baseline, a control group with neutral experience that would signify that another group is better off. Further, this inference assumes we can declare someone is better off than another.
So, what happens when two groups are equal in all ways save one, and that one is not measurably favorable?
We create a value system.
Our value system to determine that the above examples are advantageous is our belief that it’s good to be successful, positive to contribute to society, and right that people should live as they choose. But, especially as this last value is extending to a person’s choice to die as they choose, these shouldn’t necessarily go without saying, though they may be obvious and even uncontested.
Enter ‘white privilege.’
To decry ‘white privilege’ is to introduce a value ranking to race. It claims that race matters ultimately. While race matters, it is only a compounding factor in the turning of the world. Only when race is made the sole identity and merit of a person can one rank the amount of ‘privilege’ one carries around in their epidermis.
Instead of ‘privilege,’ say ‘benefit’ or ‘advantage.’ These approximate synonyms give the opportunity to consider whether and why a characteristic is favorable, and to what end it moves the favored person.
- Pause for effect – Admittedly, this “phrase” is one that I have used, though I hereby commit to quitting. It is silence speaking louder than words. In its noiselessness, you may not notice it, but now that I’ve pointed it out to you, you’ll see it everywhere.
Pausing for effect is when a speaker will stop talking abruptly or trail off softly to allow what they just said to settle in with the audience. Their silence or unintelligible words highlight an assumed “mic-drop” moment that was to have destroyed any rebuttal.
Because they deliberately quieted themselves to prove their previous point, it speaks more towards an ego of their brilliance than toward their compelling point. Rather than anticipate awe at their poignant genius, speakers should let the truth speak for itself.