What Is Privilege?

I had to come up with an innocent enough sounding title that would convince a newcomer to not X out the tab as soon as they got here.  I think a simple 3 word question will do.  Get ready to rage quit about half way through though.  This one’s gonna be fun.

Lets start off by actually defining what the word means in social parlance.  According to the dictionary:

PrivilegeBut of course we’re not going to rely on just the dictionary definition.  We do have other sources.  And if you’ve been a reader of this site for any length of time, you probably know which source we’re definitely going to include.

According to the Fox News of social science, privilege is “Any unearned benefit or advantage one receives in society by nature of their identity. Examples of aspects of identity that can afford privilege: Race, Religion, Gender Identity, Sexual Orientation, Class/Wealth, Ability, or Citizenship Status“.  The article goes on to mention white privilege 4 times, male privilege 4 times, and even “right-handed privilege” twice.

By the way if the editors at Everyday Feminism ever happen to find their way here, sentences can be grouped together in paragraphs.

You don’t need to make every sentence it’s own paragraph.

It’s true.

You really don’t.

And according to http://www.whiteprivilegeconference.com – which boasts an annual attendance of 1,500 of education workers from around the globe, and even offers Continuing Education Units for participants – privilege “exists when one group has something of value that is denied to others simply because of the groups they belong to, rather than because of anything they’ve done or failed to do“.

Now those aren’t too far off the mark, to be honest.  But lets make this even easier using a fun analogy!

Lets say you and I are standing at the bottom of this wall, and we’re about to climb it:

climbing_wallWe’re gonna see who can get to the top first.  But before we do, someone comes by and straps a 50 pound backpack on your back, then says “ready set go!”

I don’t have a pack on my back.  Does his make me privileged?


It doesn’t.  It makes you disadvantaged, but it doesn’t make me privileged, because remember the definition of that word; it’s first and foremost an unearned advantage that I have that you don’t.

Now some might point out that you having the pack on your back “gives me an advantage”.  That’s true in one sense, but if my privilege were really defined by your disadvantage, then there would be no end to privilege.  After all, someone out there has asthma.  Does that mean I have breathing privilege?  Someone else was born without legs.  I have walking privilege?  Someone else is blind.  I have seeing privilege?  Oh hell lets make it INSTITUTIONALIZED SEEING PRIVILEGE because most of the world is designed with eyesight in mind!  You can think of a million things another person has that’s makes them worse off – this doesn’t mean you’re privileged.  It means they’re disadvantaged.  This is important because the focus belongs on removing their disadvantage, not on penalizing me for not having their disadvantage.

If you showed up to a car accident and someone was bleeding all over the pavement, you wouldn’t look at me and start blame me for not bleeding – you would get some gloves on and start patching up the one’s who’s injured.

Okay now back to our rock climbing wall… lets say I had someone at the top of the wall who was pulling on my rope and helping me climb.  Would that be a privilege?


That’s exactly what privilege means!  It’s an unearned advantage that I have that you don’t!  I have someone helping me, and nobody’s helping you.  This means I might have privilege where you don’t have any disadvantages.  Or I might have a privilege and you could be disadvantaged at the same time.

There are also some gray areas.  In real life, I just happen to be a performance athlete.  I can land around a hundred one-armed pushups in generally less than 4 minutes, and can pull 385 off the ground at a body weight of 140.  So if you’re not an athlete, and we’re about to race to the top of this wall… am I privileged?  This one’s tricky – I’m definitely advantaged!  However, I earned that advantage.  I hit the gym nearly every day for a year, and worked hard to get where I am fitness-wise.  I followed a super strict diet that entire time.  I made the sacrifices.  So yea, I’m advantaged, but for it to be a privilege, it has to be “unearned”.  Keep that in mind because we’ll come back to that in a bit.

And here we’re at that rage-quit part I mentioned earlier, so go ahead and place your cursor over that X at the top there and get ready to tell your friends about this horrible conservative neo-nazi KKK page you stumbled upon.

If we’re climbing that wall, someone could be tugging the rope at the top for you………. even if you’re black.  Or you could have that 50 pound backpack strapped on and still be white.  Colour does not automatically necessitate privilege or disadvantage.  Now, there’s lots of times where that’s the case!  It’s indisputable that institutionalized and systemic white privilege does exist, and Laci Green – as much as she is wrong on so many things – actually did a good job of laying this out.  But let me say it again – colour does not automatically necessitate privilege, advantage, or disadvantage, in any given situation.   This means that each individual instance of privilege must be examined independently, and according to the facts, avoiding narratives and presuppositions as much as possible.

Whether or not you want to call white privilege “racism” depends on how you define racism.  It’s very possible for a system to be set up in favor of one race or the other without any conscious intention of racism being present.  So if you mean to call a situation racist, or call it “systemic racism”, then that’s probably accurate.  Just be aware that the people running that system may not themselves be racist, and the way the system is designed may be a left over artifact from an earlier generation that made it that way.  Address the problem without attacking the people (unless you can show the people are the ones at fault).  This same thing applies to all forms of privilege.  You solve more problems that way, make more allies, and piss fewer people off.

Alrighty, now with that out of the way, lets examine how privilege is discussed by your typical SJW (Social Justice Warrior) by looking here: http://www.buzzfeed.com/dayshavedewi/what-is-privilege

Nice heartwarming look at how much worse everyone else has it than you, and why you should feel guilty and ashamed for having it so good (i.e. being “privileged”) – although there are a few legitimate examples.  We’ll only cover 10.

1. If your parents worked nights and weekends to support your family, take one step back.

^^^ This might make me disadvantaged in some ways, but how does it make YOU advantaged?  Or even privileged?  Remember my 50 pound backpack doesn’t give you climbing privilege anymore than my asthma gives you breathing privilege.

2. If you are able to move through the world without fear of sexual assault, take one step forward.

^^^ We’ve covered this pretty extensively in another post.  But yea, if you walk through a developed nation like the US with fear of sexual assault every day, you may want to speak to a therapist.  Either that or stop visiting Everyday Idiots.

3. If you can show affection for your romantic partner in public without fear of ridicule or violence, take one step forward.

^^^ Definition of privilege.  My disadvantage doesn’t mean you have an advantage.  We need to focus on the stigma of a man kissing another man, and fix that, rather than focusing on a man kissing a woman, since that’s not the issue.

4. If you have ever been diagnosed as having a physical or mental illness/disability, take one step back.

^^^ Again, my wheelchair doesn’t mean you have walking privilege.

5. If the primary language spoken in your household growing up was not english, take one step back.

^^^ I can see how this one would be connected to other areas where privilege did exist.  White neighborhoods are generally better off because of racist housing policies (some of which were outlined in Laci’s video earlier) that existed in decades passed, and those neighborhoods would speak English.  Someone fleeing economic disparity might have grown up in a household that didn’t speak English.  It’s important to examine each item on it’s own merits, and this one might have some truth to it.

6. If you came from a supportive family environment take one step forward.

^^^ Well, this is an advantage.  And it’s one you didn’t have to earn.  So this one checks out.

7. If you have ever tried to change your speech or mannerisms to gain credibility, take one step back.

^^^ This one seems pretty scattershot.  All of us change our speech and mannerisms throughout the day, depending on the situation.  We don’t act at an interview the same way we would at a family reunion.  How would this equate into a privilege?

8. If you can go anywhere in the country, and easily find the kinds of hair products you need and/or cosmetics that match your skin color, take one step forward.

^^^ I’m going to admit some ignorance on this one.  I see aisles for hair and skin products for black folks in Wal-Greens all the time, but I’d rather have black folks chime in on this one, since it’s a personal thing and they’d know more about it.  Is it really that hard to find what you need?  Do you have to drive for miles and miles looking?

9. If you were embarrassed about your clothes or house while growing up, take one step back.

^^^ If you were embarrassed growing up……. um…. okay, every single person who has ever lived through the ages of 13 to 17, take 10,000 steps back.

I get how economic disparity means some people are privileged, but this one isn’t saying that.  It’s saying “if you were embarrassed”.  Hell even the richest kids have to go through that.

10. If you can make mistakes and not have people attribute your behavior to flaws in your racial/gender group, take one step forward.

^^^ I’m white, and I’m constantly told how I don’t understand, how I’m part of the problem, how I oppress others, how I’m so lucky, how I’ll never have it so bad, PLUS!  If I’m homeless, sexually assaulted, robbed, beat up, or wrongfully arrested, I’m told “I was still privileged” (usually by people affiliated with #BlackLivesMatter who’ve not taken any time to understand what “privilege” actually means).  I hear all the time about how whites are hurting everyone else.  Sounds like a flaw in my racial group.

But then it’s not all black folks who are doing that.  It’s only a few of them.  Same like how blacks are judged in that same way, because it’s not all whites, it’s only a few vocal and open racists.

Either way, this is a narrative, not an actual unearned advantage belonging to any group in particular.

Finally, in doing research for this post, I looked far and wide for any identifiable “Black Privileges” so I could list them here, but wasn’t able to find any.  Similarly, I’ve not yet been able to find even one example of an actual male privilege, though we do have a list of numerous female privileges.

For black privileges, I found a few sources, but these failed just as badly as most of the ones we see on the BuzzFeed link above – keeping in mind the definition of “privilege”.

http://reverseracism. tumblr.com/post/63340296481/the-black-privilege-checklist

I chose this page because, to be quite honest, other lists I found were just laughably bad, and I didn’t think they should be taken seriously.  So just a handful from the link:

A black person could potentially benefit from affirmative action. There is almost no affirmative action for white people on the basis of skin, even for foreign-born whites.

^^^ This was originally placed as a counter-measure to white companies refusing to hire blacks.  So this isn’t really a privilege, it was a necessity needed to integrate blacks into the workforce.

I can pursue a career in rap, R&B, or gospel without being considered controversial.

^^^ I can’t offhand think of a “controversial” white gospel singer.  Or even why that would be controversial in the first place.  Or why controversy in any of these categories would be bad – Eminem stated himself that if he were black, he “would have sold half”.

African-americans invented the biggest forms of music in America, namely Jazz, Rock, and Rap.

^^^ How is this a privilege?

African-americans are historically portrayed as underprivileged in history textbooks. Ethnic whites who were historically underprivileged like the Irish and Italians, and Appalachian Miners are given footnotes on the side.

^^^ This is probably true.  However, how does this translate to an “unearned advantage” in any discernible way?

I can be sure of watching a football or basketball program and seeing my race widely represented.

^^^ That’s because your race puts in the time and effort to make this happen.  It’s done by choice.  There are whites who play NFL football, and there are blacks who compete in the World’s Strongest Man.  It’s just that one race tends to gravitate towards the other – but the individuals still put in the time and effort.  This isn’t a privilege.

And this of course isn’t to say that black privilege and male privilege DON’T exist – just that I haven’t been able to find any.  So feel free to leave some examples in the comments section if you’ve found a few that check out.

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