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Box 11: Exploring Privilege

Box 11

A list of my privileges include:

  • Being male
  • Being “of age,” at 19 years
  • Natural-born American citizen
  • Being a lighter skinned Hispanic
  • Bilingual
  • Living in a NYC apartment
  • Eligibility for federal financial aid
  • Attending an institute of post-secondary education
  • Able-bodied

In my fieldsite, being a natural-born citizen relieves me of the worry of immigration officers such as ICE. I can walk around the city freely, travel using my financial aid-funded MetroCard (which also allows me to travel to City College and do the fieldsite assignment in the first place), or show an official United States identification card if necessary. Furthermore, being bilingual helps me at fieldsites, especially ones located in New York City, because English and Spanish are spoken heavily all throughout. The ability to understand both languages in conversations that pass by, as well as the combination of both in what is referred to as Spanglish, proves very helpful in assessing the fieldsite more accurately.

In my fieldsite, I observed the Hispanic community of Washington Heights. Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Hondurans, Ecuadorians, and more all melt together in the pot that is the incredibly diverse neighborhood. Within the Latino community, however, colorism exists – a remnant of generations of Latinos complying with colonial racism. For example, Haitians, dark-skinned Dominicans, and dark indigenous Mexicans, are treated much worse and are far less represented in Latin media than their light-skinned counterparts. While there are definitely lighter shades of Hispanics than me, I am not considered remotely dark-skinned in the Hispanic world. It’s possible that this can be used as a privilege in a Latino-focused workplace (such as Univision) against a Haitian of equal qualifications competing for the same position I am. It isn’t right, and I don’t agree with it, but it’s something that exists outside of my control.

But there are also things that leave me at a disadvantage. While I may be “higher-up” (for lack of a better term) in the Latino world, I’d have a much harder time in the white American world. I am considered light-skinned in the Latino world but black in white America due to my Afro-Caribbean roots. Even my name, Argenis, puts me at a disadvantage. For example, if I were applying for the spokesperson position of a company, competing with someone named Dylan, or Alex, or Nick, it’s possible that the easily-pronounceable nature of their name alone puts them at an advantage over me. In future fieldsites that I observe in my sociological career, I may be socially rejected due to my racial-based differences.

The point is knowing your privilege, keeping it in check, and using it to help others if and when possible.