One of the most frustrating topics to discuss is the concept of “privilege”. Far too many people can’t seem to grasp this word, especially those who have it. I usually see the following arguments why the term doesn’t apply:
1) “I’m poor and struggling, therefore I’m not privileged.”
There is a tendency to equate privilege solely with money or economic class. Wealth is but a single factor in whether you are privileged or not, and not having money doesn’t mean you aren’t privileged. You can be poor and still have an advantage over others just as you can be wealthy and disadvantaged. For example, a homeless man probably doesn’t have to worry about rape every time he sleeps in an alleyway compared to his female counterpart. Similarly, there are anecdotes of rich African-Americans being followed in stores, something their White counterparts (even with lesser money) don’t have to deal with.
2) “I’ve experienced X social stigma in the past because of my faith or social status, therefore I’m not privileged.”
Too many times people equate privilege with whether you are (or have been) disadvantaged. Quite simply, you cannot negate privilege because of a lack in other areas; you still maintain some form of advantage regardless of the disadvantage from others. For example, you can be female (a disadvantaged category in a male-dominant society) and still have advantage because of the color of your skin. Even more blatant are White, male “nerds” who are ignorant of their advantage from the first two categories because of perceived disadvantage in the latter.
Privilege is defined as, “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people”. Note that this definition is neither contingent on a single advantage nor a lack of disadvantage. Think of privilege as a variety of factors, some of which hold more weight than others depending on the social norms. Race, gender, sexual orientation & identity, culture, religion, and (of course) wealth all play a role in whether you are privileged… and some moreso than others. How so? Well, it is far easier to not express religion than it is to hide ones sexual orientation… and racial features are almost impossible to hide (and usually the most divisive).
The next time you deny or question your own privilege, ask yourself this: is there something about one of my classifications that makes my life easier compared to people of others? You may be poor, but are you treated like other poor people of a different gender? You may be female, but have you experienced constant bias or restriction just because of the color of your skin? You may be pagan, but do you have the freedom to express and participate in yourself that is denied to those of another sexual orientation or identity?
Think about the classifications that apply to you, whether they are subject to biased treatment, and the intensity or likelihood of said bias. Tally up how much you might hold in advantage over others, giving more weight to certain categories. If you hold more advantage than disadvantage in majority society… you might just be privileged.