Privilege can be a tricky topic to tackle. The concept is often misunderstood. When many of us think of someone who is privileged, we conjure up an image of a super-rich person who’s never had any problems. But that’s not what we’re talking about here.
Privilege in the context of social justice refers to the unearned advantages granted to some groups of people, relative to other groups.
Dr. Christena Cleveland describes privilege as the way(s) some groups are accommodated, while others are alienated.
In some ways privilege is the flip side of discrimination or oppression. If discrimination describes the negative effects of bias on some groups, privilege highlights the positive advantages given to another group as a result of that same bias.
Privilege can also be tricky because it touches on core aspects of our identity, most of which we have little to no control over. It’s difficult to accept the idea that we may be part of a group who has unfairly received advantages over others.
Some of the categories of privilege commonly examined in the U.S. are race (white people/people of color), gender (male/female/non-binary), class (upper/middle/lower), sexual orientation (straight/LGBTQ), disability (able/disabled), language acqusition (English speakers/non-English speakers), height (tall/short), weight (thin/heavy), age (young/old), and education level (highly educated/poorly educated).
On this website, we’ll mostly be discussing white privilege.
African American sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois first wrote about the concept of white privilege in his 1910 essay, The Souls of White Folks. He used the term “wages of whiteness” to describe the advantages white people had in areas like education, criminal justice, and society in general.
Check out the resources below to learn more.
ESSAY: White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh
FEATURED VIDEO: Why Does Privilege Make People So Angry?
ONLINE ASSESSMENT: How Privileged Are You?
(Note: I get it. This is a Buzzfeed quiz. It’s educational value is limited. It was designed to be quick and introductory, not to fully inform us on the nuances of privilege. But I still think it can be helpful for those of us just getting started.)