Let’s Talk About Privilege

check-your-privilegeThe term “privilege” has become increasingly common recently – white privilege, male privilege, cis privilege. And few other words have been so controversial.

Privilege is defined as (sometimes invisible) benefits granted to a person based on membership in a dominant social group. These advantages are not earned, but simply come along with being white, educated, male, etc.

It’s hard to explain privilege to privileged groups, since it’s the default setting. One fantastic explanation puts it simply: “if you don’t have to think about it, it’s privilege”.

The idea that all men are not created equal horrifies us since American culture is based largely on perpetuating that myth. Furthermore, admitting that certain groups are born with advantages gives rise to a fear of losing those advantages – which is of course a necessary step to evening out the playing field.

Checking your privilege is not about feeling guilty. It’s about becoming aware of the advantages you have – and the disadvantages that other groups face. I, for example, was born with a wealth of privilege: white, middle class, cisgender. And awareness is the first step to a more inclusive, equal world.

I could literally list hundreds of examples of privilege, but here are a few examples for various groups. (Note: I highly recommend the book White Like Me for a deeper understanding of privilege as it relates to race.)

Male privilege:
You can have a bad day and people will not blame it on your gender.
You can go on a date with a stranger without fear of being raped or otherwise harmed.
A decision to hire you will not be based on whether the employer assumes you will be having children in the near future.
Most political representatives – particularly senior level – share your gender.
You are not pressured or expected to spend exorbitant amounts of time or money on your appearance.
You can have promiscuous sex and be viewed positively for it.

White privilege:
You can voice your opinion on any subject without being the sole representative for your entire race.
No one questions why you got that great job or into that great school – it is assumed you are highly qualified instead of filling a quota.
You likely have a generally positive relationship with the police.
You will not stereotyped as likely to shoplift and be followed around in stores.
You will never be labeled a terrorist.
You will learn about your race/culture in school.
You can essentially go through life without thinking about race whatsoever as it does not factor into daily decisions.

Cisgender privilege:
You can use public bathrooms and locker rooms without fear of stares, harassment or physical abuse.
Strangers don’t assume they can ask you what your genitals look like and how you have sex.
Your ability to acquire a job will not be denied on the basis of your gender identity.
You can easily find role models to emulate who share your identity.
If you are murdered, your gender expression will not be used as justification for your death (trans panic).
Your gender is listed as an option on legal, business and medical forms.

Heterosexual privilege:
Your sexual orientation is naturalized from birth and thus never questioned.
Strangers don’t assume the right to ask you intimate questions about your sex life.
You don’t have to come out of the closet.
Your right to get married is never questioned.
You cannot be fired from your job because of your sexual orientation.

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