For one thing, the idea that there is only one right way of doing English – and everyone else is doing it wrong – is inherently flawed. And by “flawed” I mean illogical, elitist and even oppressive. Judgements about what counts as “right”, “good” and “correct” in writing and grammar always – ALWAYS – align with characteristics of the dialects spoken by privileged, mostly wealthy, mostly white people. We make these judgements based on learned biases, as well as a certain emotional attachment to our own way of doing things. But when people study dialects in an objective, scientific way (which is what cunning linguists actually do), they find that low-prestige dialects, such as African-American Vernacular English or Cockney English, have fully-formed grammar rules of their own that make just as much sense as any others. They are perfectly valid and functional forms of communication used by millions of people. The only difference is that they don’t have people running around telling everyone else to do it their way.
So, if what I am writing about here doesn’t connect with you, because you have never said or heard a racist joke, because you haven’t accepted a stereotype, because you haven’t dressed up or been at a party with racist costumes, or sat idly by, I guess I am not writing to you. But I have a hard time believing you haven’t participated or enabled racism, sexism, or homophobia. Ignorance is not a defense. The ability to be ignorant, to be unaware of the history and consequences of racial bigotry, and misogyny, to simply do as one pleases, is a quintessential element of privilege. The ability to disparage, to demonize, to ridicule, and to engage in racially hurtful practices from the comfort of one’s segregated neighborhoods and racially homogeneous schools reflects both privilege and power. The ability to blame others for being oversensitive, for playing the race card, or for making much ado about nothing are privileges codified structurally and culturally.
Learn to listen. This is especially difficult for members of dominant groups. If someone confronts you with your own behavior that supports privilege, step off the path of least resistance that encourages you to defend and deny. Don’t tell them they’re too sensitive or need a better sense of humor, and don’t try to explain away what you did as something else than what they’re telling you it was. Don’t say you didn’t mean it or that you were only kidding. Don’t tell them what a champion of justice you are or how hurt you feel because of what they’re telling you. Don’t make jokes or try to be cute or charming, since only privilege can lead someone to believe these are acceptable responses to something as serious as privilege and oppression. Listen to what’s being said. Take it seriously. Assume for the time being that it’s true, because given the power of paths of least resistance, it probably is. And then take responsibility to do something about it.