Privilege is the relative benefit that a group enjoys as a result of the discrimination or oppression of other groups. When we think about racism and discrimination, we often envision acts of deliberate meanness or quantifiable oppression of a disadvantaged group – hurtful words, tasteless jokes, deliberate exclusion from work or school, acts of violence, and so on – but it can just as easily take the form of privileges given to members of a more advantaged group.
I can look at the media and see people from my group widely represented as heroes, role models, leaders, news anchors, television hosts, and experts.
Social justice activists and writers have built on Peggy McIntosh’s original essay on privilege in 1988, by adding to and modifing the original list to highlight how privilege is not merely about race or gender, but that it is a series of interrelated hierarchies and power dynamics that touch all facets of social life: race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, education, gender identity, age, physical ability, passing, etc. These categories will be further discussed below.
First of all, you can’t choose to give up privilege – privilege is by definition an unearned advantage and you cannot choose to not have it. Guilt and shame are not, however, productive ways to deal with this.