White privilege. Male privilege. The privilege of extreme wealth. Conversations encompassing these topics have become a big part of the public discourse in recent years. As a father to a daughter, I’m much more cognizant of gender equality issues than I have been in the past. As a visible minority, a child of immigrant parents, I’ve always felt the brunt of that too. But there’s this whole other category of hidden privilege that oftentimes goes overlooked.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I’ve lived a life of oppression or systemic discrimination. All things considered, I’ve led a rather charmed existence. We’re comfortably middle class, and even though I’m a person of color (POC), the Chinese community in Vancouver has always been sizable. Things would be quite different if I was the only Asian kid in school.

There’s a running joke that the UBC doesn’t stand for the University of British Columbia; it’s the University of a Billion Chinese. Back when I was attending, I used to refer to the arcade as the Chinese Cultural Centre. But I digress.

I am remarkably fortunate in that I graduated with zero student debt. Between scholarships, part-time jobs and co-op placements, and the fact that I lived at home with my parents who supported me every step of the way, I never had to take out a student loan. Because I was living at home, I had the opportunity to launch my own business, a business that continues to be my “day job” over a decade later.

Some forms of privilege are obvious enough to recognize. Other forms of hidden privilege might fly completely under your radar.

  • If you abhor the “fast fashion” industry, it’s only because you can afford to buy clothes from other stores and brands. It may be “worth it” to pay for quality, but only if you have the means to do so.
  • If you insist on craft beer, it’s only because you can afford to avoid the cheaper, mass market beer.
  • If you say that everyone should eat more fresh and healthy food, it’s only because you can afford to avoid eating fast food or buying processed foods with more artificial ingredients.
  • If you say that you should do what you love, it’s only because you don’t have to take on a less desirable job to make ends meet. This is a newer phenomenon where younger people feel like their jobs should be meaningful and engaging; many of our parents saw a job as nothing more than a job.
  • If you say that travel is one of the best ways to spend your money, it’s only because you’ve got the time and money to do so.
  • If you know the history of your people and your country, it’s only because someone was around to document it… and those records, however skewed, are still around today. This includes the possibility of tracing your family history.
  • If you went trick-or-treating with the kids this week, it’s only because you live in a neighborhood where it’s reasonably safe to do so.
  • If you can usually find your size in a clothing store, it’s only because your body shape “fits” into what the brands deem most important.
  • If you’ve ever identified with a character in a book, TV show or movie, it’s only because the creator of the work recognized your demographic as worth depicting without caricature.
  • If you’re forced to choose between the lesser of two evils, it means you still have a choice.
  • If you’ve never been singled out or dismissed for your race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender, it’s only because you’re likely in the majority.

Hank Green of Vlogbrothers has a great perspective on the notion of guilt as it pertains to privilege. The video is especially poignant coming from an American adult who is white, male, cis, wealthy and universally popular.

In many ways, it’s perfectly understandable to feel guilty about your relative privilege. But you shouldn’t feel bad about your hidden privilege either. Not necessarily. It’s not your “fault,” but it is your responsibility. What can you do with your advantaged position to help those in a less advantageous situation?

Even if it may not be a completely selfless act, I encourage you to give generously. Give from the heart. Empower the powerless, give a voice to those who are not heard. Lend a helping hand, because we’re all in this together. It’s not about shame or guilt; it’s about understanding and compassion.