The concept of privilege can be a challenging one to get across, but it’s one of the key factors that has shaped the inequalities, imbalances, and prejudices of society today.  In order to fix the problem, the first step is acknowledging it.

Too often, when a person is informed of their privilege, they are likely to respond “Hey, I worked hard for what I have.” However, what this person isn’t realizing is that acknowledging the fact that they are privileged doesn’t invalidate any hard work they might have put into their career, social life, and so on: it simply contextualizes it.  To be privileged doesn’t mean that a person had everything handed to them on a silver platter—though it can, if they did!—but rather, in many cases, privilege means that a person was born with the right set of circumstances that allowed them to achieve success through hard work. Not everyone is so lucky.

This really isn’t a complicated concept to understand: whereas a person born in a luckier set of circumstances (for example, a family that can afford to send them to a private school) can achieve success through hard work, another person born in more difficult circumstances could work just as hard, yet not achieve the same results, due to the unfairness of their birth conditions in relation to society. The widespread deception that “everyone starts on the same level playing field” is a dangerous falsehood that has festered in the American psyche for generations, and it accounts for a huge amount of the anger, racism, xenophobia, class warfare, and so on today.

Imagine an Olympic race where one person gets to begin running at the starting line, whereas another person—against their will—is forced to start ten feet back and wait twenty seconds, for no good reason. Sure, both runners might have given it their all. But one of those runners had a huge advantage at the starting point, and that’s fundamentally unjust.

Many factors play into privilege. Class is the most obvious one: it’s much harder for a person born in the working class to move upward than it is for someone born in the upper class. That’s pretty basic. However, race is arguably an even bigger factor: people with more melanin in their skin face irrational prejudices against them at every corner, combined with the horrors of systemic racism, and surveys have shown that far too many companies still are less likely to call back resumes with less-white sounding names. Sex is also an enormous factor, as women today still face the constant realities of sexual harassment in the workplace, and surveys show that, on average, women still earn 79 cents for every dollar a man earns. Disability, neurodiversity, nationality, gender, religious background, and so on are also factors.

Privilege is the invisible benefit one receives when one doesn’t have to worry about their race, sex, class, religious background, or so on: privilege is when a person gets to go into a job interview, and to know that they’ll be seen for their decided traits/experience/individuality, rather than the labels that others have applied to them.

Again, the first step toward fixing the privilege problem is acknowledging that it exists, and spreading that awareness to others. One of the best explanations I’ve ever read of the subject was actually featured in a web comic titled On a Plate, by Toby Morris. Give it a read on this link to TheWireless.co.nz, and next time you’re looking to explain privilege to someone, consider sending it along to them.

Link: On a Plate

 

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9 thoughts on “The Concept of Privilege

  1. To some degree, we are all privileged to a certain extent, some more than others. At its minimal base, being alive is a privilege. Yet there are inequalities that lessen that from the get-go. Fascinating post that has left me pondering the concept more this morning. Thanks for making me think!

  2. Coming from a Central American background but born American, I heard many disadvantages of Central Americans for not being Mexican. The stories are a lot. And growing up, even though I lived in a Hispanic community, I was always out of the loop because the cultures are different. My point of view is very different. I see privilege as a human flaw. For instance, unfortunately, it happens in Latin America too between Landinos or those like my family with European (Spaniard) descent, against the indigenous people. And I was bullied by those who weren’t white. It did make school harder. My worldview is that too much power leads to discrimination-Not all human beings of course. I see as when the big fish eats the little one, and the little one eats the even smaller one so on and so forth. I wonder about privilege, and it’s very messy and tricky, specially when you realize it happens in “smaller” societies too. Overall great post. Makes a person think. 👍

    • Hey Ana, thanks so much for sharing your story here; your description and background story offers a really fascinating perspective on the matter, and you make some great points. The fish example you give is really effective, as well as the point about power imbalances. What else was your experience with this like, as you were growing up?

      • It wasn’t always terrible. I always managed to make friends. However, there were times where I was a complete it outcast. Also growing up and hearing stories from family and friends who endured, some pretty bad tragedies, others just annoying experiences, made me realize at young age that human beings hold lots of prejudices as a whole about numerous things. It’s more multi-layered than what we think. Actually, right now. I have aunt visiting from Guatemala, and it’s very hard for me to hear how prejudice, even racist, against indigenous people in her country. She has Italian and Hindu and is also educated. So she’s “special.” She also can’t stand watching certain races mix. But she’s so old that I really can’t scold her about it. So for me all this race issue extends beyond the skin/ethnic/race background. It’s sad. 😓 Hopefully, that made sense. And thank you. 🌹

        • Yes, that makes complete sense. Thanks again for talking about your experience; this is such a multilayered subject, which impacts everyone in such different ways, and your thoughts on the matter really shed light on certain aspects of it in a huge way.

          • No problem. I wish we had more conversations where we can expose or purge, not necessarily the human faults (obviously)because those are understanding, but evil. Wishful thinking, I suppose.

  3. Had some discussions lately about privilege. What seems most telling is that the people who were born with some distinct privilege were the most vehement to deny that privilege exists. It’s like the optical illusions, once you see it, it becomes so obvious.

    • Yes, you’ve nailed it there. I think it’s because if a person is lucky enough to have been born with that level of privilege, it is (by its nature) invisible to them: they’ve just always lived with it, like an invisible shield surrounding them from things that less-privileged people experience on a daily basis. As you say, though, once you see it, it’s incredible how obvious it is, and how tone deaf many privileged members of society are when it comes to class issues.

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