Congratulations! You've finally realized that you have privilege! You, as a straight, white male in the "Western" world have been blissfully immune to the things that people who aren't like you, people who are different, people like, I don't know, the rest of the human experience, go through on a regular basis. You've realized that because you're a man, you can't remotely begin to realize how a woman feels when you're walking thirty yards behind her with no ill intentions and she starts to speed up or goes into a better lit area. You've realized you can not begin to imagine the nerves it takes for a gay person (or heaven forbid a trans person!) to trust people enough to come out to them if they're semi-closeted. You realize that when you're pulled over by a cop, you are much more likely to get off with a ticket or warning, whereas if you were black or hispanic you'd have a much higher chance of having your car searched. You know that, all things equal, you're gonna earn more money than anyone doing the exact same job over a lifetime if they're female... or a racial minority... or of a different sexual orientation than you.
Welcome to the real sociopolitical world!
How did this happen? How did you come to realize this? Was it the coworker problem? That does it for a lot of people. Some random rape joke got you thinking, or someone calling someone else a 'fag' when they do something not 'manly?' Did the ability of them to make these jokes with impunity make you feel kinda... wrong? Maybe it was a friend that has realized these things and heard jokes like that and politely removed himself from the conversation. That guy that doesn't think that rape jokes or derogatory language describing everything not straight, white and male are acceptable and actually tries to tell people that these things are not funny, and may actually hurt people... did you call him 'gay' after he left a conversation, or question his masculinity? Hey, it's ok. Because you realized NOW that he may have a point, you feel kinda bad about it. Go back to him and talk to him. He's an enlightened brother, right there.
And what is privilege? You're kinda realizing that it's something that's intangible but has real consequences. It can affect everyone in a negative way... including YOU. How does your own privilege hurt you? Simple. Those things you pointed out to justify how you used to think there is no privilege... Yeah, those. How? That's complex. Lets say that the old chestnut of "Women get custody of children and men get to pay alimony and child support way more often" is one of your old excuses. Ask yourself. What is the reason for this? The reason isn't because the system hates straight white men. It's the attitudes of modern masculinity... the things that you used to think were infallible... that make this happen! Men are the providers. Women are the caretakers. This is basic, entry level modern masculinity in the United States. This attitude may go against you in this situation, but hey... you're making 25% more money in a lifetime! And women not only make less, but they also have to take care of children. This is a logical extension of the masculinity/femininity dichotomy that you used to think was right!
How about "These people just got promoted/accepted into school/this that or the other because they're black!"? Lets take a minute and do some thinking. Take a poor black child who is trying to get into college. This kid has great grades, extracurricular activities, the lot. But the kid can't afford to take the SATs more than once. The kid studies hard, nights, weekends, and gets 1900 on the test! Awesome! Now take the well off white child. Same grades, same activities, but the kid can take the test four times in a year because the parents are paying for it. The best score the white kid gets? 2000. Based on just the scores, the 2000 is the clear choice. No scholarship for the black kid. This is why we have programs that help people from lower incomes, who are usually racial minorities! The black kid needs more financial help than the white kid, but may be naturally a better student BECAUSE that child had to work so hard! By the way, I never mentioned the kid's gender. You thought about male children, didn't you? Yeah, I thought so.
Or maybe "Men get sexually assaulted by women too! It just never gets known about!" Recall... what did you used to call men who turned down sex from any woman, much less complain about having sex when they didn't want to? Yeah... that's part of this masculine thing too. It's got a name, by the way... You're not gonna like it... The name is...
Sorry. It's true. This boogeyman of a word sends men's rights activists into apoplectic fits, but it's real. This attitude hurts everyone it comes into contact with. Men, women, gay, straight, black, white, hispanic, anything... I know. It seems kind of immense and terrifying.
So what can we do about it?
Well... Lots! Start off by getting involved in your own mind. Stop making rape or minority or gay jokes. Start thinking that they aren't really that funny... because they're not. You're going to have some road blocks. It's natural. Its gonna help when you start listening to what people are saying. Remember... oppression can't be defined by the oppressor, only the oppressed. Listen to complaints, grievances, and angry rants. This isn't tough to get. Stop blaming victims of crimes for the crimes. Be happy when you see programs that help people (even with your greatly appreciated tax dollars). Realize that people can wear what they want when they want and have the right to not be sexually assaulted. And don't worry. Realizing that you have the privilege doesn't mean you're a bad person. You have a bonus in life! It's like playing a new videogame on the easiest setting. The only thing you have to realize is that others don't have it on the same setting. Sometimes people get tougher lots in life. What you can do is realize this, and fight for people who don't have it as privileged as you. Listen, think, and help! Being open to the lives of others is going to make YOU a better, happier person! You're not a bad person for having privilege, you'd be a bad person for not recognizing it!
So go forth! Enjoy life with the knowledge that you're gonna make a difference by merely being a human being with empathy, if not sympathy!
And who knows? Maybe you'll be the guy who walks away from a chauvinistic/racist/queer-bashing conversation and makes another straight white male think about why.