So, I originally wrote this for another blog but it never made it on that blog, and since I suck at keeping up with this blog, I thought I might as well use it for this blog. Enjoy!
What is privilege? Who has privilege? Is it a bad thing, or can it be used for good?
Many people have numerous reactions with this word; however, the number one reactions that numerous people experience when hearing this word, especially if they hear that they are privileged, are anger and disbelief. But what exactly is privilege, and how does one become privileged?
Well, if you go extremely academic and look up the word in Merriam Webster, the definition is “a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor.” Delving into the world of diversity and social justice, privilege has the same definition but is further expanded to include advantages, rewards, or benefits given to those in the dominant group without asking for them. Also, privileges tend to be bestowed unintentionally, unconsciously, and automatically. In other words, it is institutional; it is systematic; and it is instilled upon us after birth. The word signifies the groups that have gained advantages in various cultures and countries over other people. Privileged groups are created via social norms from the most powerful and/or influential groups. These norms are created to allow the privileged group from losing their powers and to allow the status quo to stay in tact.
An excellent piece explains privilege and privileged groups. This piece, written by Peggy McIntosh and title White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, mainly discusses racism and the privileges that are experienced by Caucasians; however, the paper can assist in explaining the general concept. Also, the paper points out another extremely important aspect of privilege—the privileged group has no idea they are privileged (it is invisible) whereas the ‘outside’ group knows and internalizes how they are not privileged. The last point is extremely important in the concept of privilege and how the privilege perpetuates as a social norm and a status quo. This paper also discusses various points of privileged that very few people consider to be privileged, like “I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race [gender, religion, etc.] widely represented,” or “When I am told about our national heritage or about ‘civilization,’ I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.”
Tim Wise, another well known scholar in social justice, is one of the best writers, educators, and lecturers concerning anti-racism and privilege (specifically white privilege). One of his earliest pieces, Racism and the Culture of Denial, discusses privilege and includes excellent comparisons people may relate to. If you go to his website (www.timwise.org) or look up YouTube videos of him, you can obtain more information and essays concerning privilege, racism, sexism, and et cetera. Tim points out that with privilege, we do not have to explain our actions, don’t have to sweat our failures, and don’t have to worry that stereotype will be further perpetuated (or maybe eliminated) by our performances. People with privilege will not have the bad choices of a few will stick to all whereas the unprivileged will always be stigmatized by the bad choices of a few (Racism, White Denial & the Cost of Inequality).
Another very compelling point that Tim Wise points out with privilege is that it can be even used to hurt people that are “in the group.” People with the ultimate power (for Tim Wise, white, wealthy, Christian males) will create a “privileged” group to create the status quo and prevent uprising. Wise refers to the “advantages” and “privileges” all European descendants received in order to prevent the class warfare to ensue and to turn the warfare towards skin color.
This ignorance, for once, is not bliss as shown in the brief examples. With this ignorance, people in the “privileged” group will still encounter unknown disadvantages because the power diverts the attention to other “issues.” Also, with the ignorance, minorities will continue to have internalized –isms and have to fight for their rights; however, with the knowledge that you maybe privileged, this fight suddenly becomes much easier. But how can privileged be used as a weapon to fight –isms?
By reading Tim Wise and other scholars in this area, you become more knowledgeable in the subject, which is the beginning in using privilege for good. Once you know what privilege is, and you know that you are privileged, it is not invisible to you and you will not (hopefully) use it as an advantage over minority groups. This is the first step, which is necessary, in order to eliminate privileges and change the status quo.
Once you become aware of privilege, accept it, and do not use it, you can then start to educate other people and ensure they do not use their privileges to undermine other people. Also, by acknowledging that you are privileged, you can use that ‘status’ as a way to speak up for minorities. Being privileged, unfortunately, allows you to have a voice that can be heard; therefore, use it to assist other groups.