This is part one of a four-part series about privilege. If will help you understand examples of privileges, the barriers that exist for people that do not have certain privileges plus suggestions for what you can do to help in different contexts.
⚪ Part 1 — Are you privileged?
⚪ Part 2 — Check your privilege
⚪ Part 3 — Unpack invisible privileges
⚪ Part 4 — Scenarios: how to use your privilege
Each of us came into the world with a mixed bag of advantages and disadvantages.
Some disadvantages don’t count in the grand scheme of things (you were born bald and it was very unphotogenic for a while) and some really do (you inherited a chronic condition and now spend loads of money, energy and time managing it).
It’s the same with advantages. Some might be nice but not really affect your successes in life (your mum made great meatballs) and others act as gusts of wind that carry you to opportunities for success (you lived in an area that meant you could attend a great school).
Powerball GIF via GIPHY.
When we talk about privilege, we refer to the advantages that:
1️⃣ have an impact in the grand scheme of things
2️⃣ relate to our membership in groups that society gives differential treatment to (even if we don’t see ourselves as the overall ‘winners’)
🌡️ Poll time
What are some examples of privilege? Have you ever really thought about them before? Take our quick, anonymous quizlet to find out.
Where you answered ‘No’ to any of the above, it means you enjoy an effect of a certain type of privilege.
Where you answered ‘Yes’ to any of the above, you probably don’t need to be told that the obstacle you reported experiencing is not universal — some people escape experiencing it just because of who they are.
Okay, let’s be honest. Some people roll their eyes when they hear about ‘privilege’.
The very idea of privilege challenges the belief that we live in a meritocratic society. ‘Meritocracy’ describes a society, organisation or some sort of governance that fairly gives credit based on merit. It rests on an assumption of equal opportunity.
Excited Kirun Kunju GIF by @studiosoriginal.
To accept privilege is to accept that the ‘playing field’ we work on is made uneven by various advantages and disadvantages. This means that opportunity is not equal and not all achievements are earned fair and square.
You can borrow from psychologist Gilovich’s metaphor of headwinds and tailwinds to think and talk about how privilege — or its absence — impacts your efforts in life.
We are acutely aware when a headwind pushes against us if we’re cycling or running. Similarly, we are aware of the obstacles we face firsthand in life. We can see how the headwind or the setback directly translates into us working harder.
Yet when we’re pushed forward by a tailwind, we enjoy it and soon forget about it. The same goes for privileges. We don’t notice our own privileges because they seem like a given. We may even wonder why others struggle so much to keep up!
This explains why we don’t see our own privileges effortlessly. And why we find it so difficult and even frustrating to engage in dialogue about other people’s disadvantages.
🗝️ Your key takeaway
Privilege describes any unearned advantage that someone enjoys only because of their membership in a certain social group. Some people don’t like the idea since it suggests success isn’t achieved entirely fairly. To help privilege click, try talking about it in terms of a tailwind.
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