Oh, privilege, you slippery, tricky word. I’ve heard it used in earnest and used defensively. As in…
Girl: It’s cool that you feel safe walking home at night alone, but the fact that you don’t have a defensive strategy against attack means that you’re privileged by being a dude. You’re not constantly anticipating a physical attack.
Dude: WHAT WHAT WHAT DO YOU MEAN I’M NOT PRIVILEGED.
That’s an example of male privilege. It’s nothing to get defensive about. Everyone is privileged in some capacity. That’s okay, though – having privilege doesn’t mean that you are a bad person or that you can’t be an ally. It’s just something you should always be aware of, especially in the context of larger feminist and civil rights movements. Privilege does not mean that you are necessarily even at an advantage in certain situations, just that you lack a set of institutional disadvantages suffered by the minority group in a given circumstance. Sometimes, if you’re in the majority, you won’t even be aware that you are in fact in the majority and possess a set of privileges.
You’ll often hear the phrase “check your privilege,” used to call out privileged voices within a movement. For example, when speaking out about trans rights, as a cis person, maybe don’t shout on top of what the people who are going through that experience have to say. Use your voice to amplify others.
It’s a large umbrella of a term encompassing sets of certain privileges across many movements, but here are 20 things to help you along with understanding privilege and how it affects your life.
I got a 38 out of 100. While technically not that privileged, I’m still privileged by being able bodied, cis-gender, and straight, and those are definitely things to be aware of. It is by no means an exhaustive quiz, but it will definitely make you aware of things you were not aware of before that can be considered privileges.
2) And so we’re all clear, privilege does not mean that you have 0 problems in life…
… it just means certain areas of your life are made easier by your privilege.
3) While oppression isn’t a contest…
— The Hard Times (@REALpunknews) November 17, 2015
Cis-gender, able bodied, white, straight men from affluent families are by definition the most privileged (and will often be the ones to tell you that political correctness is ruining the fabric of America or some bullshit).
4) And while you are disadvantaged in one movement for equality…
It does not mean that you aren’t privileged in another.
5) Privilege is so engrained in our society, it goes back through history. One group is significantly marginalized while another one profits.
While not direct participants of the Homestead Act, white families were advantaged over native and black families. It’s important to remember that privilege stems from an institutional positive treatment of one group over another based on a set of biases that (apparently) go way, way back.
6) But, if you’re more of a video girl, let this snail and caterpillar illustrate what privilege means.
YouTubers Chescaleigh and Kat Blaque collaborated on this awesome cartoon about privilege, being aware of it, being an ally, and helping your friends. It’s as simple as being a caterpillar v. being a snail. Don’t get what I’m saying? Watch the video, it makes perfect sense – sometimes you’re the caterpillar 🙂
7) If vlogging is more your speed, let YouTuber Anna Akana tell it.
She’s funny, not patronizing, and makes it simple and easy to understand.
8) Sometimes it helps to see people literally make themselves a graph of how privileged they are.
This video is eye opening. Who’s at the front and who’s at the back by the time they’re finished? Any guesses?
9) Even if you’re a person of extreme privilege (ex: you’re a movie star) you can still be the victim of institutional inequality
— Hollywood Reporter (@THR) November 18, 2015
And if you noticed these are all able bodied white people, you’d be correct. Women of color are still drastically unrepresented and offered less opportunities in the entertainment industry than our white counterparts. Furthermore, disability, while being the largest minority group in America is the most underrepresented in the media.
10) Privilege affects the way the media portrays your race in the wake of unspeakable tragedy.
Muslim shooter = entire religion guilty Black shooter = entire race guilty White shooter = mentally troubled lone wolf
— Sally Kohn (@sallykohn) December 21, 2014
As a Lebanese American who looks Middle Eastern, my life was different after 911. I no longer had the privilege of being OK at airports (ex: I was pulled aside and scanned when traveling alone with my little brother between our parent’s houses, my peers made fun of me in school, you know…) But, it’s important to hear that if someone’s being “sensitive” or “complaining” it’s probably a set of privileges that are shaping your view of that person. They’re reacting to the institution of the media that continually paints them and their families as treasonous villains, they’re not being “dramatic about it.”
11) Labels can be overwhelming, but they help identify privilege in larger movements.
Cisgender people are privileged because they are perceived as “normal.” The rejection of the label comes from wanting to be the default and not having to identify yourself as an “other” even if your identifying word literally means that you are still in the majority that is not oppressed. Ugh.
12) Privilege can give you the illusion of being the person of authority.
This for example. It’s important to honor and respect others and make them feel safe. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, that’s a personal problem. Using your privilege to assert power where there should be understanding is an act of violence.
13) Did you know that complaining about your hetero-coupled significant other was a form of privilege?
I know this post is about marriage, but remember that some of your friends are not out to their parents for reasons beyond general nerves about coming out. Sometimes it’s an issue of safety (they’ll get thrown out), fear of abandonment (real – parents disown their gay kids), and a multitude of other issues not faced by you, the heterosexual couple.
14) And did anyone else catch this rampant white, upper class privilege in that Best Buy commercial?
Who did you expect to relate to this, Best Buy? Only a sliver of America? OK, that’s what I thought…
15) Sometimes as a person of privilege, you can be well intentioned…
But, you should remember that not everyone can go through life the way you do.
16) And while Twitter parody accounts are funny…
brb gonna sit in my own car and not get arrested on 8 counts
— WhiteMalePrivilege (@MalePrivilege) March 7, 2015
Know that privilege is real and this is not a reality for people of color, especially black people.
17) Privilege is not a literal certificate that you are born with…
18) Your privilege does not become less and you do not lose any power by being more aware of how your privilege affects your daily life and those around you.
And yeah, the war waged by political correctness can be overwrought, basic human empathy should be a given. Stop hating on this term, y’all.
19) It’s important to stay aware, and keep your mind open to see if you’re in a space in which you are at an advantage.
Check for engrained biases before you speak.
20) Now that you know you have privilege, you can use your powers for good, not evil.
Amplify the voices of the oppressed, don’t shout over them. Think of it as giving them the piggyback, not the other way around.
What are your thoughts on privilege? How privileged do you think you are? Tell us in the comments.
You can follow the author, Aliee Chan, on Twitter.