Breakin’ Down Privilege: What It Is and What It Ain’t

Everyone seems to have different ideas of what exactly privilege in the context of social groups, is. The privilege we are talking about here is that of the privileges of those in dominant groups. Well, today we are going to break it down and get everyone on the same page. Privilege is important to understand and recognize if we want any hope of moving forward and fixing our flaws, but if everyone isn’t on the same page, that will never happen.

So step one…What exactly is privilege?
It’s pretty simple, privilege in the context that we are using it, is exactly the same as what the definition of privilege actually is,“a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people”. That is it. It’s that easy. It simply means in some way or another, some people have an advantage or special right over others.
So what exactly does this mean in terms of social groups?
This is where, I think people get confused and upset and as a result refuse to recognize that they have it.

Let’s talk first about what privilege is NOT.
Privilege does NOT mean:

That you have lived a, carefree ,struggle free, perfect life.

That even though you may be in a dominant social group, that you will NEVER face an injustice in that area.

A bad thing.(I will discuss these a little more in depth in a minute)

This comic written by white blogger, Jamie Kapp explain white privilege quite well what privilege DOES mean, is that generally, on a day to day basis those in dominant social groups, have those advantages and special treatments over those who are in the non dominant groups.
EVERYONE has privilege is some way shape or form, and we all fall into a non dominant group as well. We all fall into many social categories and you would be hard pressed to find someone who is not in some way part of the dominate group. When we look at the social groups, we can easily pick out who are the dominant ones. To make this a little more visual, let’s look at a diversity wheel:

All of these are social classes, correct? Every single one of us can sit here and fill this out uniquely to ourselves. For example, I am a black, african-american, 23 year old (young adult), able bodied, cisgender female, whose first language is English, transracially adopted, raised in a two parent home, christian, U.S. Citizen…so on and so forth. This is what we talk about when we are talking about social classes/groups. We can also go around this wheel and fairly easily name the groups that GENERALLY in America, are the dominant group. And when we say dominate, we simply mean that they are considered the “norm”, that our system is set up to cater to them.

So, for example, heterosexuals are very obviously the dominant group in america. Any other sexual orientation is faced with limitations and injustices (i.e. banning gay marriage, banning non hetereotsexual couples from adopting, being able to fire queer people etc). Able-bodied people are the dominant group, they don’t face nearly as many limitation compared to those with physical or mental disabilities. White people are the dominate group, native english speakers are dominate, christians are dominate, people with college degrees are dominate, cisgender people are dominate, and you get the point.

Now let’s put privilege into real life perspective, I will use myself as an example. As I listed, I fall into several dominant groups as well as several non dominant ones. What privilege means, is that in those groups that I am part of the dominant group, I have an advantage. People who have privilege, usually never even know because we don’t ever, have to think about the hardships or injustices of those because it simply isn’t a part of our lives.

Well what on earth do you mean by all that Rebekah? Well as an abled bodied person, how often do you physically stop and think about how you are going to make it up those 5 flights of stairs to your apartment? And i’m not talking about “damn, im going to be tired how am i going to make it”. No I mean physically you never have to stop and think about being able to WALK up those stairs, because you have two function legs and feet. THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO DO NOT HAVE FUNCTIONING LEGS AND/OR FEET. Are you honestly going to try and argue that you don’t have an advantage over people with no legs? That you don’t have it easier than someone in a wheelchair? The thought never crosses your mind. Now that is a very obvious example because that was something we can physically see.

Where people start to flip shit, is over things that cannot necessarily be seen, like race, gender or sexial orientation. Let’s talk about race. As white people, when was the last time you walked into the store and had to consciously worry about whether you were being racially profiled, followed and watched like a criminal? Not very often and probably never. THAT is white privilege. White people when was the last time you even had to think about the color of your skin and how it will affect every single life decision you make? Pretty much never. In fact, chances are you never even thought about your whiteness until someone mentioned it to you. For the rest of non white people, we are well aware of the color of our skin as children. There are BABIES consciously trying to figure out how to deal with racism. You have privilege.

Straight people, when was the last time you actually had to think about how marriage would never be an option because it’s illegal and in some places, punishable by death? Literally never, you NEVER have to think about that, because everything is catered to you. THAT is straight privilege. This same process can be used for every group.

Age groups? Youth are hated because they’re young and everyone else think they are stupid, the old get tossed aside because they can’t help as much physically. Everyone in between is in a privileged position.

Christians, well this country was founded on christianity. When was the last time christians got labeled as a terrorist group because of a few bad apples? And even though there have actually been more harm done in the name of christianity than just about any other religion, it’ s still considered the “purest” and the only acceptable way. That’s a privilege.

Men, how often to you have to worry about being sexually harassed every time you walk out the door? Men get praised for sleeping with multiple women, but a women becomes a slut if she sleep with more than one man in her life. The workforce is catered to you, there is no glass ceiling for you. No one accuses you of sleeping with someone to get into your position of power. That is male privilege.

I’m going to jump back to what privilege is not, for a second.
I talked about how while, you are in the dominant group, that doesn’t mean you have lived a perfect life. No, not at all. Yeah, as a white person, you have probably dealt with some shit in one way or another, but difference is there is a system set up to HELP you get past and overcome those challenges. Those options are not available for all of us. As a straight person, maybe you’ve faced some shit, but at the end of the day, you can still walk into work and not worry about getting fired for who you love, you can still get on a plane and get married anywhere you want and not only not be slaughtered on site, but have it be legal.

Another part to add, is that sometimes you may move in and out of a dominant group. For example, when you move from a youth to a young adult your privilege shifts with it. If you move up or down the economic class, you may lose or gain your privilege status. In other words, privilege is not always constant.

So what the hell does all this mean and what do you want us to do with it?
As I said before, having privilege is NOT at all a bad thing. It is actually good, it means that you in a position of power to help people who don’t have that power and privilege. Where it becomes a problem is if you use that position of power to be an asshole rather than a decent human being and helping to make equality and equity happen so we don’t even have a privilege structure to begin with. Having privilege means that you are in a position of power and you may not be as aware of the actual state of things as much as you think. Privilege is the reason there are white people who still think that racism doesn’t exist today. I got a murdered black person by police every 28 hours, racial profiling, wage gaps, misrepresentation and more that says otherwise. What it means is that you, while being a position of power, might have to shut up and listen to those who are actually suffering and use your power to help project THEIR message, not project the message you think needs to be heard on their behalf. You have your time to talk, let those who don’t get the platform, have the platform and you can help get them to that platform by using your privilege. That can be as simple as sharing a post on facebook that was written by someone in a non dominant group, talking about the issues their people are facing. And lastly, it means that you might, and probably will mess up. You have been able to glide through life not thinking about these issues and now that you are aware you might say or do something that is out of line and you might get called out. So check your privilege first, are you really in a position to be inserting your opinion here? Are you really qualified to speak for people who are not in the dominant group? Then fall back, and be respectful.
Well that was a lot to get through, the important thing to remember is that everyone has privilege in some way or another and as people, we need to take the responsibility in recognizing where we have those privileges so that we know when to step forward and when to take a step back.