by Stacia L. Brown for

logoPrivilege isn’t a term that springs immediately to mind in conversations about black women in this country. Between earning inequities, media misrepresentations, the “mule of the world” meme, and everything in between, we aren’t exactly the poster children for entitlement.

And yet there are several circumstances that can potentially place us at higher stations in life than those around us. Certainly, some of those circumstances are familial and relational. Wives are often in positions of privilege, as it relates to their husband’s other children. Children who have “full custody” of their fathers are privileged over their siblings who don’t. Maternal grandmothers may spend far more time with their grandchildren than paternal grandmothers. The possibilities along those lines are immense.

But there are plenty of other instances where black women may experience privilege. Some of those are cultural. Consider the hiring bias against applicants with “ethnic-sounding” names. In a hiring pool, Sharon Jones may have the unwitting upper hand over Shaquanita Jackson. Similarly, there are situations in which American-born black women find themselves at a distinct advantage over other women of the diaspora.

There’s economic, educational, and professional privilege. And then there’s the kind of inadvertent “leverage” black men will occasionally suggest we have.

Last semester, one of my freshmen insisted the young women in our predominantly black course were “better off” than the young men because they were “females.” “It’s easier for y’all to get jobs, y’all got lower car insurance, y’all can get assistance if you need it, and y’all don’t get profiled by the police like we do,” he asserted. While the girls argued his points, he wouldn’t be dissuaded. And, because I’ve had and heard the same exchange — with much older folks, over many years — enough to feel exhausted by it, I didn’t join in with the chorus.

Because of its connotations, privilege isn’t always something we want to own. The idea suggests an unearned superiority and the power to oppress. And who wants to be associated with that? But what Jones said in her reading was key: It isn’t the privilege or how we obtain it that matters as much as what we choose to do with it. If we use it to lord our better lot over those less fortunate, we abuse it and squander its ability to heal, reconcile, and improve.

Ask the Readers: Have you ever been roped into a debate over which oppressed group has it better: black women or black men, black Americans or black emigrants to America?