Privilege

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Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it's not a problem to you personally

—David Gaider [1]

Having privilege overwhelmingly precludes one from experiencing life without it — this makes privileged people ignorant of how it manifests.

Privilege refers to the granted social, cultural, financial, and other advantages (or lack of disadvantages) that a group or individual holding a measure of institutional power possesses as part of their identity. The more institutional power a group possess, the more privileged they are; for any group to be privileged, they must hold institutionally-granted advantage over some other group.

People who are privileged tend to experience appropriate (or even exclusive and/or overwhelming) representation in industry, media, and government. Typical role models in a society tend to resemble the most privileged members. This kind of influence and favor extends to the law and related establishments; this includes but is not limited to fair treatment in courts, a lack of profiling and an incarcerated or otherwise lawfully penalized population that is proportional to the general population. People without privilege do not enjoy these, and many other aspects of life a privileged person may take for granted due to never experiencing otherwise.

It is also notable that very few individuals possess complete or total privilege. Intersectionally, it's common to experience only some avenues of privilege, but not be favored in many other respects. The social, political, and cultural effects of this principle manifest individually for every person's unique advantaged and disadvantaged aspects in society- but people with similar or the same avenues of privilege tend to follow patterns if they live in similar contexts.

Globally, for a variety of reasons including colonialism, the most commonly privileged groups tend to be those with lighter skin, men or those who express more masculine genders, the wealthy or at least upper middle class, members of the ethnic and religious majorities, cisgender people, heterosexual people, members of ruling generations or castes, those who do not have criminal records and the mentally and physically healthy, among others. However, at different levels of analysis or in specific contexts, more distinct groups may be identified.

People who hold the most institutional power in any given society are part of more privileged groups than those that aren't privileged. Thus, in many societies, a white, cisgender, heterosexual man would have more privilege than a black, transgender heterosexual woman. This is the most basic intersectional analysis of privileged and oppressed identities and an important principle of modern social justice study.

History

Peggy McIntosh: "I believe [...] that everybody has a combination of unearned advantage and unearned disadvantage in life."[2]

Peggy McIntosh popularised "privilege" in her 1988 paper called "White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies". In an interview in 2014 she explained:

I found myself going back and forth in my mind over the question, Are these nice men, or are they oppressive? I thought I had to choose. It hadn’t occurred to me that you could be both. And I was rescued from this dilemma by remembering that, about six years earlier, black women in the Boston area had written essays to the effect that white women were oppressive to work with. I remember back to what it had been like to read those essays. My first response was to say, “I don’t see how they can say that about us—I think we’re nice!” And my second response was deeply racist, but this is where I was in 1980. I thought, I especially think we’re nice if we work with them.


I came to this dawning realization: niceness has nothing to do with it. These are nice men. But they’re very good students of what they’ve been taught, which is that men make knowledge. And I realized this is why we were oppressive to work with—because, in parallel fashion, I had been taught that whites make knowledge.[2]

See also

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References


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