I was recently sitting at my University's common room, discussing power politics with a peer. A woman sitting beside us intervened when the topic of white privilege arose. "And there's no black privilege?" she asked.
Questions like this both frighten and surprise me. That some people are so privileged, they are literally incapable of recognising the existence of their own privilege.
Take for instance male privilege. It is there. All women will tell you it is there. Yet many men still seem to be under this delusion that it does not exist. "What about sexism against men?" they say. Examples of family court bias, "man up" slurs, and "positive discrimination" are called forth as ambassadors to the male cause.
All of these are in fact products of a society which inherently discriminates against women, because they are women. There is no family court bias entrenched in law, and if there is by judicial intervention, it is due to the socially constructed image of women as lifelong house-mothers. Not because men are consciously disfavoured. Terms like "man up" imply that being female is inferior or negative. And positive discrimination is perhaps a blunt tool, but that only demonstrates the extent necessary to combat prevalent forms of discrimination. That we need diversity quotas because we cannot even trust employers to base decisions entirely on merit.
Discrimination does exist. In many forms. Maybe it is difficult to empathise with if you are not on the receiving end, but it certainly does not make it any less real.
The recent video showing British Chelsea fans preventing a black man boarding a train in Paris, while singing "we're racist, we're racist, and that's the way we like it" has attracted much disgust. Yet even so, a Chelsea fan who was on the same carriage claims the incident was "not racist" and that the "press are trying to make something out of nothing."
The same happened with another video, on a train in London, of a white woman telling a black man "you guys used to be slaves". She is then heard justifying this with "I'm not racist. I have black friends." Even when Zach Braff apologised for comparing Pharrell Williams to a "flying monkey"- we are told this was never offensive.
Moreover, a councillor expelled by Ukip after saying "The only people I do have a problem with are negroes... I really do have a problem with people with negroid features," has insisted there was nothing "racist or derogatory" in what she said.
The one thing in common between all those sharing the view "that's not offensive"? Yes. They are from the offending group. There is a certain irony in a person from the discriminating class being able to decide what amounts to discrimination and what does not.
It is the same pattern seen when men decide what amounts to oppression against women. We, as men, simply do not have the capacity to empathise with a woman's life. That is all. As a man, I do not face what she faces, and therefore I cannot make any credible comments on her experiences. The only ones that should be able to decide what amounts to discrimination against women, are women.
It seems we live in a climate where those being oppressed cannot even decide what amounts to oppression against them. We must wait to be told by someone from the oppressing class. That is convenient for the oppressing class, but an odd concept otherwise.
Yet one step at a time, and a conscious attitude towards the existence of privilege is always a start. As for the intervention mentioned at the beginning, my response was simply "Not here."
Tired of hearing about racism and sexism every day? Imagine living it. Every day.