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Notes on Deconstructing Privilege

May 29, 2012

What is Privilege?

Access to information, social networks, time and money. Access to human and civil rights, legal protection and safety. This access can vary from slight to enormous.

Being seen as an individual, even if our group status strongly influences some factor about us. Having our experiences be validated as “authentic, normal or natural” by the media, the mainstream narrative and popular discourse.

Having privilege does not (necessarily) mean you are a terrible, oppressive person. It does however, mean that you have a stake in allowing your own privileged system of oppression to continue — whether that system is racism, classism, casteism, transphobia, homophobia, communalism, colonialism, islamophobia, ableism, anti-immigrant, anti-femininity, fat-phobia, anti-sex work or sexism — you gain from its continuing existence and power.

Having privilege does not mean having no pain in life. We all struggle, we all suffer. However privilege ensures a soft, foamy surface when we do fall — one that isn’t equated with humiliation and defeat.

Being applauded in the media for surviving struggles that countless others have also faced with equal, if not more, bravery. Having a home and not worrying about economic sustenance when we are going through crisis.  Not facing social or cultural stigma because of our struggles. Social, legal, economic and political support that isn’t dubbed “welfare”. We all believe in the “myth of self-reliance”.

What does Owning Privilege Look Like?

An acknowledgement that we live in an unequal society and that we benefit from this inequality. Some more than others. Others not at all. Acknowledging that this benefit is un-earned.

Invest in shifting powers.

Disrupt systems of oppression within your own communities.  You are obligated to find the balance of supporting marginalized communities (sometimes through your privilege) without dominating the dialogue or the work. You cannot be the center. It is far better to do nothing than to colonize and take over voices that had to struggle to be heard in the first place.

What does Invisibilizing Privilege Look Like?

– Having a sense of Entitlement. Having a presumed expectation of social, legal and educational benefits and that these benefits are natural and correct.  Access to a college education is one of many examples.

– Feeling “Lucky” — Believing that the benefits that we gain from the system are due to divine or unknowable intervention as opposed to some privilege that we enjoy.

– Feeling guilty or ashamed. It has a way of helping individuals feel good about themselves and (their place in systems of oppression) without having to actually do anything. It centers privilege and privileged angst, and does nothing for anyone. Needless to say, this is un-necessary and un-asked for.

[Image via Outburst!]

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 29, 2012 10:31 am

    Brilliantly written. This is a fantastic post about what privilege is, how it is accrued and what it means to share in that privilege. Well done.

  2. May 29, 2012 10:33 am

    Reblogged this on seventhvoice and commented:
    This is a fantastic post exploring what privilege is, how it is accrued and what it brings with it. I agree with it’s writer that we all have to take our turn at disrupting the train of privilege so that we might lessen the perpetual gap between the ‘heard’ and the ‘unheard’ in our society.

  3. May 29, 2012 3:56 pm


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