For some time, Privilege, particularly White Privilege, has been a subject that has raised many an angry and defensive voice. The “I’ve worked hard to get what I’ve got” response is an oft heard refrain. More recently, politicians in Britain have weighed in, marking not just talking about White Privilege with a sense of illegality but also the very concept itself, going so far as to deny the factual reality of it. The intertwining of this rhetoric with the attacks on Critical Race Theory emanating from America is working to shut down a whole range of conversations about inequity, particularly racial inequity. However, if we truly believe in creating an equitable, inclusive, and fair society, we need to resist these prohibitions and the erasures of reality. We need to talk about Privilege.
But why? Why do we need to talk about Privilege?
If we truly believe in creating an equitable, inclusive, and fair society we need to talk about Privilege because disadvantage and discrimination are inextricably linked to its existence. The causal connection is quite simple – people are disadvantaged and discriminated against because other people are Privileged. One does not exist without the other. So, if we want to remove disadvantage and discrimination, we need to talk about Privilege.
However, there is also an intentionality to the maintenance of Privilege – people continue to be disadvantaged and discriminated against to sustain the Privilege of others i.e., the accrual of Privilege also results in the accrual of power; a power that is consciously and unconsciously deployed to maintain the status quo of privilege and disadvantage. To address this inequitable power dynamic, we need to talk about Privilege.
To talk about Privilege constructively, though, and avoid, as far as possible, the angry defensive responses, we need to understand and articulate what is meant by the term. In the context of social relations, inequity, and power, Privilege refers to the unearned benefits certain people and groups of people accrue when society is set up to benefit them.
The groups society affords these benefits to are defined and distinguished by identity characteristics and behaviours. Society determines which identity characteristics and behaviours are deemed to be ‘normal’ and acceptable. People and groups who meet the criteria of ‘normal’ and acceptable are afforded Privilege simply because they do. They need to nothing specific to accrue these benefits, hence they are unearned. People and groups who don’t meet these criteria of ‘normal’ and acceptable identities are discriminated against, regardless of what they do, and so are disadvantaged in and by society.
This Privilege occurs across all domains of identity – race, ethnicity, gender, class, sexuality, faith, marital status, parenthood, and whether a person is disabled by society or not. These are identity characteristics and associated behaviours against which society has established a scale of what is deemed to be ‘normal and acceptable’, and what isn’t. Privilege also occurs across all the multitude of intersections of these identities. As a result, whilst some people are intersectionally disadvantaged and some are intersectionally privileged, most people experience simultaneous privilege and disadvantage. It is highly complex yet, where Privilege occurs, someone will be discriminated against because of who they are.
The experience of Privilege is relational to other people and conditioned by the context in which people live, work, socialise, and otherwise interact with people, systems, and structures. The experiences and impacts of Privilege are varied, fluid, and changing yet, where it occurs, someone will be discriminated against because of who they are. Despite its complexities and nuances or, perhaps, because of them, Privilege will exist in your workplace. It will be causing discrimination and disadvantage. Just as it will exist in your local pub, the supermarket, and in your home.
The experience of Privilege, though, is not confined to personal interactions or the different contexts we move in and out of. It is also structural and systemic. The power afforded to the Privileged results in systems and structures of power that result in the discrimination and disadvantaging of those who fail to meet the criteria of normal and acceptable, even if they never meet a Privileged person in their lives. In all its subtleties and intricacies, Privilege is pervasive in our society.
So, if we want to create an equitable, inclusive, and fair society, we need to talk about Privilege. If we don’t talk about it; if we only talk about discrimination and disadvantage, Privilege will remain unchallenged and will contiue to perpetuate discrimination and disadvantage
So, let’s talk about Privilege. I invite anyone and everyone to an ongoing conversation about Privilege. Whether you think it is liberal ‘snowflake’ bunkum, whether you think it is a divisive concept, whether you don’t really get it and are perplexed by the whole issue, or whether you want to discuss how it works, its complexities, its subtleties, or whether you want to talk about how to address Privilege in the context of your work and/or your life. Let’s talk about Privilege. Comment here, DM me, or, if you’re up for it, let’s record or livestream our conversation to share it with others.