We are all born free and equal in dignity and rights…

**But some have privileges too….

Adapted from the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights

We are all born free and equal in dignity and rights…**But some have privileges too….

Across the world, people of all backgrounds are experiencing a time in which discussions about race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and culture are at the forefront of their everyday lives.

A great many people avoid these discussions because they fear that conversations about race, bias, and racism lead to feelings of anger, guilt, discomfort, sadness, and at times disrespect. 

However now is the time when we need to be discussing these key human rights movements to ensure we not only overcome, but we also create a fairer world for all.

While uncomfortable for some, the thought might be, the young people of the world are perhaps best placed to facilitate the dialogue to bring about positive, productive outcomes. -Put simply, they can make friends with less unconscious and conscious bias.

This brief introduction is intended to engage in constructive dialogue about privilege, prejudice, power, and the ways that all of us can work together to shift the conversation from hate and violence toward understanding and respect to ultimately bring about positive change and unity to our communities.

In our global society, each of us has an identity that shapes how we see ourselves and others. Not only do our social norms and cultural underpinnings influence our experiences, they also set the course for how we view the world. Differences in identity—and related struggles for place and power—are woven throughout our history and social and political culture.

While diversity is always a strength, and one historically proven, the path toward common ground, mutual respect, dignity, and equality has been a long and often bloodstained struggle for nearly every faith, race, sex, disability, sexuality and ethnic group.

The world’s most difficult challenges, are not creation of peace, or stopping wars but getting to the causes of conflict such as such as poverty, disenfranchisement, isolation, inequity, and violence.

You may have guessed by now, but there is no solving of these situations without discussing the role of priviliage.

While Male Privilege is perhaps the widest form example of this, here we are going to start to discuss race. This is because race is a strong factor in privilege and perhaps the most uncomfortable for a white person to discuss. Again, myself as a White Male person from a reasonably developed country which has laws protecting inclusion, have to acknowledge that even in writing and choosing the topic, is an exercise in privilege, but one I hope is fully acknowledged by myself.

The Role of Privilege

For many members of the western-majority culture (i.e., those who identify as White), being made aware of one’s classification as linked to privilege is likely not a common or welcomed experience.

Indeed, many people have never been asked or required to reflect on their own privileged status, and in regards to racial identity, doing so might feel uncomfortable or even argue with the common narrative regarding social and political changes over the years.

For example, White people may attach the concepts of progress toward equality or being “colour blind” as mitigating privilege. As a result, many White people either may not be aware of or may avoid considering how simply being White confers special status or experiences, potentially to the detriment of others. 

While many White Westerners may not view themselves as privileged because of their economic or social status, the advantage of being in the majority racial group is real, even if often hidden.

Consider simple life activities such as shopping in a store without the fear of being followed by a security guard or buying or renting a home in an area that you can afford without consideration of your race.

This fundamental disconnect might both motivate and exacerbate the racial/cultural divides, due to a lack of awareness of how privilege contributes to the realities of racism. We are all taught ‘Racism is bad!’ but are we taught about how our privileges may be equally bad?

Importantly, although privilege is often associated only with wealth and/or economic status, it applies far more broadly. Privilege can be assigned to populations within a group, such as athletes, individuals perceived as attractive, individuals who attain higher levels of education, or membership in certain faith/no-faith groups. Loosely defined, privilege includes the following aspects.

Unearned advantages that are highly valued but restricted to certain groups by birth or status.

Unearned advantages are those that someone receives by identifying or being born into a specific group. It is important to note that the groups who have received these advantages have not earned them due to their own hard work but rather their affiliation (e.g., being born into a wealthy family provides privileges that others do not have, such as accessing education as well as mental health and medical services; White People in the west are more likely to walk into a store without the suspicion of stealing). 

Equally important to note is the reality that while some benefit from unearned advantages, others are victims of unearned disadvantage. Unearned entitlements are things of value that all people should have; however, they are often restricted to certain groups because of the values of the majority culture that influence political and social decisions.

Members of the privileged group gain many benefits by their affiliation with the dominant side of the power system. Privileged advantage in societal relationships benefits the holder of privilege, who may receive deference, special knowledge, or a higher comfort level to guide societal interaction. Privilege is not visible to its holder; it is merely there, a part of the world, a way of life, simply the way things are. Others have a lack, an absence, a deficiency.

Privilege oppresses certain groups. As explained by Wildman and Davis (1995), 

Privilege exists when one group has something of value that is denied to others simply because of group membership and not based on what a person or group has done or failed to do.

For those who routinely benefit from privilege, the challenge is to not quickly deny its existence. It is important to recognise that privilege is a part of the reality that helps some while it impedes others’ experiences. 

For example, although being female or a person of color does not necessarily directly determine an outcome, these characteristics can easily and quickly make these individuals less likely to be hired, recognized, or rewarded in a variety of situations.

Privilege is problematic when it skews our personal interactions and judgments and also when it contributes to blinding us to societies’ barriers for those who do not possess a certain privilege, thereby creating or perpetuating inequity.

In Western culture, certain groups have the privilege of operating within settings—through no effort on their part—that are more conducive for their success, while others—through no fault of their own—find themselves in settings that make success more difficult.

Again, this concept refers to any advantage that is unearned, exclusive, and socially conferred. For example, with White privilege, White people are generally assumed to be law abiding until they show that they are not. Even then a lighter crime or wrong doing is often assigned by any form of justice.

On the other hand, Muslims, Black People, and other races are routinely assumed to be criminals or potential criminals until they show that they are not.

“the lives we lead affect what we are able to see and hear in the world around us.”

Wildman & Davis (1995)

Recognising your privileges.

An important first step to understanding the concept of group-based privilege and how it can shape peoples’ perspectives, experiences, and interactions is to examine our own experience.

We can be the beneficiary of privilege without recognizing or consciously perpetuating it. Learning to see one’s own privilege as well as that of groups and systems can create an important pathway to self-discovery. Some questions to consider are listed below.

  1. When was the last time you had to think about your ethnicity, race, gender identity, ability level, religion, and/or sexual orientation? What provoked you to think about it or acknowledge it?
  2. When watching TV or a movie, how likely are you to watch shows whose characters reflect your ethnicity, race, gender, ability level, religion, gender identity, and/or sexual orientation?
  3. When using social media, how diverse is your feed? How diverse are your friends and followers? How diverse are those that you follow?
  4. How do you respond when others make negative statements towards individuals of a different ethnicity, race, gender, ability level, religion, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity than yourself?
  5. How often do you go to social settings where the majority of individuals are of a different ethnicity, race, gender, ability level, religion, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity than yourself?
  6. How diverse is the community in which you live?
  7. How do you feel when you are in a community that is different than your neighborhood?
  8. How would you make your neighborhood more inclusive and sensitive?
  9. If you recognised your privilege, what will you now do with this realisation?

Suggestions for Talking to Others About Privilege

Engaging in thoughtful discussion with people of other backgrounds is essential to understanding privilege.

Start by discussing how privilege looks in our society and which groups have privilege and which do not.

  • The first discussion should be about privilege, in general, and the reasons some groups have privilege and others do not. This lays a foundation before personalising the discussion and may help participants be less defensive.
  • Next, ask participants to discuss examples of how they are privileged and how they are not privileged. Listen to the ways in which a person legitimately does and does not have privilege and validate any frustrations that are expressed, especially before offering your opinion or perspective. The discussion about areas in which participants have not experienced privilege is where the most empathy may be found.
  • Be sure to listen twice as much as you speak.
  • Always recognise and respond to your own privileges in any discussions.

Stress that privilege is relative to each individual’s lived experience.

  • The degree to which individuals experience privilege must be framed within the context of their own race, gender, ability level, religion, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity coupled with the communities in which they live, work, and play as well as the persons with whom they interact.

Recognise that having privilege does not require feeling guilty for your privilege.

  • Because each of us likely has an element of privilege within our make-up (ethnicity, gender, ability level, religion, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity), individuals need not feel guilty for their privilege.
  • Rather, the focus should be to use our privileged positions to challenge the systems in which we live. Specifically, challenge yourself and others to refuse to live in a system of unchecked privilege. For example, challenging school staff members to walk the route their students take to school each day is a small but meaningful step toward helping them to identify and understand their privilege in relation to the students they serve.

Determine and offer ways to challenge systems of privilege and oppression in your own life.

  • If someone mentions an oppressive pattern that relates to privilege (e.g., “Men always dominate conversations and talk over women because they are taught that their voices are more valuable.”), consider how you will not participate in this pattern. For example, you might say less or be aware of how often you are speaking and begin to listen more while others are speaking.

Learn and use

Understanding and engaging in self-reflection and discussions about privilege is an essential step to addressing individual and insitutional in-equality and discrimination in our society.

We must be aware of and honest about our personal perspectives and how these may or may not contribute to biases that in turn may contribute, even unintentionally supporting; prejudice, inequity, isolation, poverty, and perhaps violence.