Of all the topics I post about, privilege seems to produce the most vitriol in the comments. Be it white privilege, male privilege, hetero privilege, cis privilege, mono privilege, able privilege, or some combination of these and other forms of privilege, people seem to push back, almost out of instinct, against their existence. These comments all have at least one commonality: confusion between what privilege is and is not. There have been many wonderful pieces written explaining exactly what privilege is. And the comments in those articles are still filled with confusion-based push back. So, I want to provide a list of some of the things that privilege is NOT so that I can just link to this post in those discussions. Feel free to do the same.
Privilege is not something you do.
No one person creates or sustains privilege over another person or group. It is not something your actions make you guilty of.
Privilege is not your fault.
When reading about or discussing privilege based on a label or categorization that fits you, remember that no one is blaming you for your privilege. All that’s being asked of you is that you accept that the privilege of that group is real and that people outside of that group are at some sort of disadvantage.
Privilege does not make you racist, sexist, homophobic, et al.
When people talk about a privilege based on a label or categorization that fits you, they are not accusing you of being bigoted or hateful. Actually, denying the existence of privilege is what comes across as bigoted.
Privilege is not playing the race, gender, queer, et al. card.
Pointing out privilege or discussing the role privilege plays in a situation is not an attempt to alienate the privileged parties nor an attempt to elevate the non-privileged parties.
Privilege is not about dividing people.
A common argument is that discussing and acknowledging privilege only serves to divide people. This is a misreading on the direction of causation. If there wasn’t already a difference between the experiences of different groups of people, privilege would not exist to be discussed.
Privilege does not trivialize your own struggles.
Having privilege does not mean you don’t have to work hard, nor does it mean you don’t have hardship.
Privilege is not a guarantee of the presence or absence of success.
Those that have privilege may not achieve all they set out to. Those that are disadvantaged may not be forever held back.
Privilege is not about individual experiences.
The presence or absence of privilege does not a guarantee what any one individual will or will not be exposed to.
Privilege is not about material advantage.
It is sometimes assumed that, for example, white people can be poor and so white privilege does not exist. This is not the case. Privilege is not only about economic advantages and disadvantages.
Privilege is not binary.
Just because someone experiences one sort of privilege does not mean they are not disadvantaged by another form of privilege. An example is black men who have an advantage based on their gender, but are at a disadvantage based on their race.
Privilege is not about you.
Privilege is actually about the people that don’t have it. That’s why dismantling privilege is so hard: it’s most noticeable to the people that are disadvantaged, and they aren’t in the position of power to change the dynamic.
Those are some things that privilege is not. If you’d like to know what privilege actually is, there are many fine sources. I recommend:
- “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh – Examines white privilege in particular
- “Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person” by Gina Crosley-Corcoran – [language warning] Also examines other forms of privilege
- “The Angry Eye – Brown Eye/Blue Eye Experiment” by Jane Elliot, part1, part 2 –
Watch as privilege unfolds and is pointed out.
This list is not exhaustive, and so I’m definitely willing to add to it. Do you have a recommendation for something I could add? Maybe you have feedback on one of my explanations? Let me know in the comments or send me a message.