A recent article by Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, is a prime example of why shaming privilege has the potential to be extremely damaging to the progress we could make as a society.

Do we really need to justify heartache?

The article describes the Duchess’ heartbreaking experience of her recent miscarriage, but what is most striking is the tone of the article. Throughout, one gets the impression that she is downplaying her misery and heartache for the sake of avoiding heartless scrutiny. She writes:

‘It was a July morning that began as ordinarily as any other day: Make breakfast. Feed the dogs. Take vitamins. Find that missing sock. Pick up the rogue crayon that rolled under the table’.

To me, this all sounds like an unnecessary attempt to come across as ordinary — like any other parent with a child to look after. Meghan the mother desperately wants to be perceived as ‘normal’. Is this because she is acutely aware of the immense privilege she holds in certain aspects of her life, and its accompanying stigma? Perhaps the Duchess feels she has to put on a ‘brave face’ and make herself seem ‘one of us’, to even be allowed to talk of her sadness and her pain. But regardless of the reasons for downplaying her privilege, no person who went through that kind of suffering should feel obligated to justify their heartache.

Privileged does not mean ‘bad person’

It’s easy to forget, particularly when it comes to celebrities and Royals, that each and every one of us can have a bad day or a bad experience. The feelings we have towards those experiences are valid, no matter your background. And, let’s not forget that no one chooses their particular privilege; it’s just a part of who you are and your circumstances. If we could choose … well, then it would be a very different conversation. Which brings us to another important point: privileged people are not automatically bad people — just as a those without privilege are not suddenly good people. So why bother with all the shaming?

And what of the privilege deniers? Or those who have privilege but choose not to use it to help others? Well, I would say they probably need to educate themselves a little more. And we need to educate ourselves in being patient with them. However, shaming them, spouting abuse and accusations their way is counterproductive. It certainly won’t make someone want to help others. There is, I believe, an alternative to navigating through a conversation about privilege of all kinds, whether it be racial, gender-based, class-based, or any other type. 

What we need to understand is that one’s privilege isn’t a bad thing. It’s simply what one received, either through luck or circumstance, or both. We shouldn’t be ashamed of it or shamed for it. But our lack of awareness is a bad thing. We should listen and learn from other people’s unique experiences. However, awareness of our own privilege is key here. The absence of this awareness is the reason things haven’t changed. Blissful or wilful ignorance of one’s privilege must be fought at every opportunity.

Essentially, we have two choices at hand. We can either ignore our privilege and continue to stunt any growth society could make, or; we could lean into the conversation, listen and learn about what makes our life better and try to make another person’s life better too.

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