Privilege refers to an unearned advantage or entitlement based upon an individual’s characteristics, including (but not limited to) their ethnicity, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status or religious belief. It influences systemic and social norms, resulting in inequalities that tend to serve and benefits some groups over others.
Having privilege does not mean you have not worked hard to get to where you are, or you have not encountered your own personal struggles during your life; having privilege is recognising that your ethnicity, race, gender identity, sexual orientation or other demographic characteristics have not been one of the factors that you’ve had to worry would make your life more difficult.
It should be noted that having privilege based upon one set of characteristics does not cancel out one’s other marginalised identities.
For example, a person can be a woman and still have white privilege. Not having male privilege does not cancel out having the white privilege. A person can lack economic privilege but still have white privilege. Not having wealth does not cancel out white privilege.
Most people have never been asked to reflect on their own privileged status. When it comes to race, it can be helpful to start thinking about where privilege might show up in daily your experiences. Examples may include:
- Not having to educate your children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical and mental wellbeing protection.
- Turning on the television or opening to the papers and seeing people of your race widely represented in a positive manner.
- Thinking over many options – social, political, imaginative or professional – without the need to consider whether you would be accepted or allowed to do what you want to do because of your race.
- Not having to think about the impact your skin colour will have on the appearance of financial reliability.
- Arriving late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on your entire race.
If you recognise your privilege, what do you do with this realisation?
Reflecting on these scenarios can be an uncomfortable experience. However, understanding how your privilege impacts others is an essential step to building empathy and addressing individual and systemic inequalities.