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Privilege

Privilege

Why do you have the things you do? Can you think of anything that you didn't necessarily work for but only have because of the family you're in or the country you live in? If you answered yes, which many of us will, you have privilege.

  • In this article, we will begin by defining privilege.

  • Then, we will explore the differences between privilege vs. rights.

  • After this, we will look at privilege vs. targets of oppression.

  • As we move along, we will discuss a type of privilege called "White Privilege".

  • We will conclude by outlining several other examples of privilege.

Privilege Definition

Privilege can be a sensitive topic to discuss. We can define privilege as:

Privilege: unearned opportunities or advantages you have that others may not have.

When concerning privilege, there are a few concepts we should understand first. For starters, all of us are members of several social groups.

Social groups: groups formed in society based on a person's characteristics or affiliations.

We are all members of several social groups. This can be based on our race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or socioeconomic status -- the list goes on! Another concept we should understand is ingroup vs. outgroup.

Ingroup refers to members that belong to our social group while outgroup refers to members that do not belong to our social group.

If you identify as female, your ingroup includes other females. The outgroup includes all non-female genders.

Can you think of the social groups you belong to? How many ingroups can you count?

There are two things to keep in mind when considering what privilege:

  1. The key word here is unearned. Privileges are the opportunities or advantages that you have that you did not have to work for, but were granted due to your social groups or affiliations.
  2. There is always another side of the coin to privilege -- where some gain, others lose. The opposite of privileged may be disadvantaged or, in extreme cases, oppressed.

Privilege Definition: The Systems That Create It

One thing we haven't considered yet is, who sets these rules. Who decides which social groups get an advantage over others? Privilege is the product, unintentionally or intentionally, of one of the following three systems:

  • Individual: personal attitudes, actions, or behaviors an individual has towards or against a social group. Example: Your math teacher has a closer relationship with those in Mathletes and unintentionally called on them more in class.
  • Institutional: laws, policies, rules, and norms put in place by social institutions and organizations that grant advantages to some social groups and disadvantages to others. Example: The government passes a law that grants free health care to people with green eyes.
  • Societal/Cultural: social norms, expectations, roles, or rituals that reinforce beliefs that one social group is superior to others. Example: TV shows often portray males in leadership positions, reinforcing male privileges in the workplace.

Privilege vs. Rights

An opportunity is considered a privilege if some people have something others don't. Other opportunities, however, are those that every person has and should be given. These opportunities are our rights. Distinguishing the difference between privilege vs. rights is important.

Rights: the basic opportunities and needs that should be granted to every human being simply because they are human beings.

According to the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), there are 30 basic human rights such as the right to freedom, the right to work, and the right to life, liberty, and security.

Privilege, page reading human rights next to woman holding scale, StudySmarterFig. 1, Human rights should be granted to every human being, Freepik.com

These are basic human rights that every individual should have. But sometimes, these rights aren’t always protected. Or, our rights are given to us based on where we live, the groups we belong to, or our nationalities. These are often assigned based on government policies, laws, or social constructs.

Social Constructs: a concept that is defined and accepted by members of society.

In a perfect world, everyone would have the rights they deserve. But unfortunately, having the rights you deserve can also be considered a privilege because it’s something people do not have (even though they should).

For example, every human being should have the right to education. However, some countries still do not allow girls to have an education. If you are a girl and you are reading this for a class, you have privilege.

Privilege vs Targets of Oppression

People who do not have their basic human rights or who do not have as many opportunities as others are referred to as targets of oppression.

Targets of oppression: people who are neglected, given fewer opportunities, or victimized by the ideals, values, and systems of the dominant (nontarget) group.

Dominant or nontarget groups can differ based on location. In the United States, here are some examples of dominant or nontarget groups:

  • White people

  • Males

  • Heterosexuals

  • Able-bodied people

  • Middle-class or above

  • Christians

  • Middle-aged people

  • English-speaking people

When systems or social constructs assign more power to a dominant group, it inevitably creates targets of oppression. When this occurs, equity is the best way to resolve the imbalance.

Equity: the assurance that opportunities are fair and do not discriminate or exclude a single individual.

Making opportunities more equitable simply means that the privilege that some have and others don't is taken into account.

A great way to understand equity is by thinking of race. If you, a high school student, wanted to race your 5-year-old sister, it would not be a fair race if you both started at the same place and ran as hard as you could. You would probably win every time. However, to make it fairer, or equitable, you factor in the advantage (or privilege) you have, and allow your sister to start closer to the finish line than you.

Privilege, people running race on track, StudySmarterFig. 2, equity can be seen in how people start a race, Freepik.com

Examples of Privilege

Privilege can creep into nearly every space, especially when there is more diversity. Here are a few examples of privilege you might see or even experience in the real world.

People who come from a higher socioeconomic status are able to afford healthcare and dental care. However, those of lower socioeconomic status may not have a job or the money to pay for these basic needs. Those of higher socioeconomic status have more privilege when it comes to healthcare.

In America, gay marriage is legal. However, many countries in the world still prosecute those in the LGBTQ+ community. This is one of the many reasons why living in America has several privileges we should not take for granted, even among its flaws.

In the workplace, men are often paid more than women who are working the same job and doing the same work, if not more, than them.

Able-bodied people have privilege because they do not have to worry about finding the route to work with ramps, as many sidewalks and buildings are built in ways that may make it more difficult for disabled people in a wheelchair to get around.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, several people were given a check from the government to cover the loss of income due to shutdowns. However, not everyone is qualified, including undocumented individuals. Even though they were working the same as everyone else, and lost their job the same as everyone else, many did not have the same support from the U.S. government for the loss of income. Those whose immigration status granted them support have privilege.

White Privilege

White privilege is a common type of privilege that can form the most harmful forms of oppression.

White Privilege: an unearned advantage due to a person's Caucasian skin complexion and physical features.

White privilege in America has become systemic. This means our systems, such as the government or education, are built to give white people more advantages than black, indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC). As a result, BIPOC often can't access basic needs and face discrimination.

Privilege, protest with man holding sign reading end systemic racism, StudySmarterFig. 3, Protests were held to try and combat the unfair advantageous nature of society, Pixabay.com

For example, before the Civil Rights Movement, black Americans did not have the same rights as white Americans. They had different schools, pools, neighborhoods, and even water fountains, but they were not the same quality as white Americans through Jim Crow Laws. When the Civil Rights Act (1965) was passed, it legally protected all Americans' rights regardless of their skin color.

However, while this law was passed, white privilege still remains in the systems on which America is built. Even today, many people of color have been victims of police brutality simply because of the color of their skin.

Studies show that black drivers are more likely to be pulled over than white drivers (Pierson et al., 2020). White drivers may not have to worry as much as black drivers about being pulled over while driving.


Privilege - Key takeaways

  • Privileges are unearned opportunities or advantages you have that others may not have.
  • Privileges are opportunities some may have that others do not while rights are opportunities that everyone should have. Sometimes, having rights is a privilege.
  • Targets of oppression are people who are neglected, given fewer opportunities, or victimized by the ideals, values, and systems of the dominant (nontarget) group.
  • Privilege can creep into nearly every space, especially when there is more diversity.
  • White Privilege is an unearned advantage due to a person's Caucasian skin complexion and physical features.

References

  1. 1 DuBois, W. E. B. (1903). The souls of black folk. Chicago, IL: A. C. McClurg & Co. Retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/408/408-h/408-h.htm
  2. 2 United Nations. (n.d.). Universal declaration of human rights. United Nations. Retrieved August 2, 2022, from https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights
  3. Pierson, E., Simoiu, C., Overgoor, J., Corbett-Davies, S., Jenson, D., Shoemaker, A., Ramachandran, V., Barghouty, P., Phillips, C., Shroff, R., & Goel, S. (2020). A large-scale analysis of racial disparities in police stops across the United States. Nature Human Behaviour, 4(7), 736–745. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-0858-1

Frequently Asked Questions about Privilege

White privilege is an unearned advantage due to a person's Caucasian skin complexion and physical features.

Human rights can be a privilege. While rights are opportunities that everyone should have, not everyone does. Having your fundamental human rights is a privilege because some people do not. Although, human rights in themselves are not a privilege but a right. 

Privilege refers to unearned opportunities or advantages you have that others may not have.

There are three types of privilege: individual privilege, institutional privilege, and societal/cultural privileges.

The question of whether or not voting is privilege or a right is often debated. On the one hand, anyone over the age of 18 has the right to vote. No one can take that away based on protected classes (race, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender, etc.). However, voting can be taken away for people who are in jail. Therefore, it in some ways is a right. 

Final Privilege Quiz

Question

What are social groups? 

Show answer

Answer

Groups formed in society based on a person's characteristics or affiliations. 

Show question

Question

_________ refers to members that belong to our social group while ________ refers to members that do not belong to our social group.

Show answer

Answer

ingroup ; outgroup

Show question

Question

________ is unearned opportunities or advantages you have that others may not have. 

Show answer

Answer

Privilege

Show question

Question

The opposite of privilege is:

Show answer

Answer

disadvantaged or oppressed

Show question

Question

If your English teacher is more likely to call on people in the book club, what type of privilege is this?

Show answer

Answer

Individual

Show question

Question

Jim Crow Laws were an example of what type of privilege? 

Show answer

Answer

Institutional

Show question

Question

What are rights?


Show answer

Answer

the basic opportunities and needs that should be granted to every human being simply because they are human beings.

Show question

Question

_____________ is a concept that is defined and accepted by members of society. 

Show answer

Answer

Social constructs

Show question

Question

______________ are people who are neglected, given fewer opportunities, or victimized by the ideals, values, and systems of the dominant (nontarget) group. 


Show answer

Answer

Targets of oppression

Show question

Question

What is equity?


Show answer

Answer

The assurance that opportunities are fair and do not discriminate or exclude a single individual. 

Show question

Question

Which of the following areas can privilege be found? 

Show answer

Answer

All of these

Show question

Question

What is white privilege?


Show answer

Answer

An unearned advantage due to a person's Caucasian skin complexion and physical features. 

Show question

Question

True or False? Women are often paid less than men in the workplace for the same job and for doing the same amount of work. 

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Which of the following is not a dominant or nontarget group in America? 


Show answer

Answer

Disabled people

Show question

Question

True or False? A right and a privilege are essentially the same. 

Show answer

Answer

False. 

Show question

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