An Exercise in Defining Privilege

Here’s an excellent video from Buzzfeed (really? I know!) that illustrates the concept of privilege in a compelling way. It helps you understand that privilege is not a static thing but a relative thing because there are so many different types of privilege and so many ways that an individual can have their lives made more difficult.

And no, this does not mean anyone should feel ashamed of being privileged or have to apologize for it. I have pretty much every privilege imaginable. I am a straight white male from a middle class family, I’m educated and have never had to worry where my next meal was coming from. I have a couple of chronic health conditions, but they are manageable and don’t impede my ability to function or make a living. About the only attribute I have that might cause me problems is that I’m an atheist, but that’s really never been a problem for me either. I’ve never lost a friend or family member because of it, I’ve never suffered for being open about my rejection of religion. In fact, I make my living because of it now.

I don’t feel ashamed or guilty for any of that. I had little to do with it. But I do feel an ethical responsibility to recognize that I’m privileged and that other people’s lives are made much more difficult because they weren’t as lucky as I was. And with that recognition comes an obligation to help make life more fair, more equal and more just for those who aren’t as privileged in any way I can. That’s really all it means.

"And this is why refrigeration was invented."

McConnell Thinks Trump May Be Gone ..."
"I wish these boys would heed my unsolicited advice about getting action. Make with the ..."

Cernovich: Charlottesville was Government Plot to ..."
"As a Brit old enough to have grown up watching chilling video of classroom indoctrination ..."

Kilmeade: NFL Players Creating ‘Chaos’ by ..."
Follow Us!
POPULAR AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Rowan vet-tech

    That video and exercise were brilliant.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Rowan vet-tech, “video”? “Exercise”? No wonder you people don’t have any appeal to us Normal Americans. Make it a chain email and a pill and we’ll consider it.

  • http://www.thelosersleague.com theschwa

    I watched part the video. I might have watched the whole thing if it was prefaced with “A dozen people stand in a line. You won’t believe what happened next!”

  • http://www.thelosersleague.com theschwa

    a dozen. or 9. Math (counting) is hard!

  • Cal

    This is well done. I had a conversation recently with one of my brothers, we both told stories of being pulled over while driving late at night. I was speeding and my brother had knowingly ran a red light as the intersection was empty and he was leaving his job site. In both cases the cops let us go. We are both white middle aged males and even though I knew I deserved a ticket my explanation of being tired and almost home was enough for the officer to get in his car and drive away. I know scenarios could have been very different if I had been a different age, sex, or race. My brother also admitted his guilt saying the light was red but their were no other visible cars. He was just told to be careful and let go.

    In both cases even though we were clearly in violation of the law, the worst we expected was a ticket. I had no fear of the officer pulling me over or anything worse happening. I know that is not the case for all and for many that would seem to be an extremely scary scenario. That is a very big privilege and should be the same case for all, but that is not the reality of today.

  • jaybee

    A powerful part of it that they didn’t draw too much attention to was apparently everyone started out holding hands. As people advanced or retreated they had to break the connection to the person next to them.

  • cptdoom

    That was a great visualization of the issue, and I was caught a bit unawares by the very first question. I totally related to the white gay guy, my own demographic, but didn’t even consider economic privilege. So my own first action in that scenario would be to step back, because my parents both had to work nights and weekends while I was growing up. A real eye-opener.

  • Nepenthe

    A reminder of how complicated it is.

    My dad worked nights, weekends, and holidays…. as an ER doctor.

  • Lady Mondegreen

    Here’s an excellent video from Buzzfeed (really? I know!)

    They’re actually quite progressive.

  • peterh

    “When you see someone behind you . . . . .”

    Nuff said.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Lady Mondegreen “They’re actually quite progressive.”

    Buzzfeed is quite progressive in 12 different ways that will amaze you! Also, Buzzfeed is quite progressive in 7 ways you won’t believe!

  • http://twitter.com/#!/TabbyLavalamp Tabby Lavalamp

    Crap. I read the YouTube comments.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com WMDKitty — Survivor

    That… yeah, we need more explanations (of so many things!) like that, that get you in the thinks and the feels.

  • StevoR

    Privilege : So simple a concept really but seemingly so hard to get one’s head around and realise it applies to you around so much deeper the more you look into it. Mea culpa. It also seems to almost naturally (?) repel people and put them on the defensive. Privileged? No, not me!!! Because .. and so many superficially good yet actually not valid reasons. Its become a swear word of sorts really hasn’t it? A tabu and also a truth. It needs acknowledging. It needs self reflection and thought – and that is hard. Too hard for too many. Though it shouldn’t be.

  • Anri

    From the OP:

    I don’t feel ashamed or guilty for any of that. I had little to do with it. But I do feel an ethical responsibility to recognize that I’m privileged and that other people’s lives are made much more difficult because they weren’t as lucky as I was.

    Trying to make this point to conservatives of various stripes is both extremely difficult and terribly important. No, I’m not expecting them to feel some sort of “white guilt” or “straight guilt” for what society has handed out to them (and me!) – I’m just trying, desperately, to get them to understand and acknowledge that it exists, and to see what sort of effects it has on everything around them.

    To steal a classic quote, they (and I) might have been born booted and spurred, and others appear to have been born saddled and bridled… and figuring out that that just might not be totally fair is an important basic step towards becoming a decent human being.

  • http://www.thelosersleague.com theschwa

    Look, I may have been born on third, but I EARNED this triple!!

  • doublereed

    I’ve had some conversations with more extreme leftists where people have tried to use privilege as some sort of insult to me. It’s very strange and I’m never sure how to respond (other than a sort of “what is your point” statement). Like from the Redstockings Manifesto (the redstockings were radical feminists in the 70s, definitely not mainstream in any way), it has this phrase:

    We call on all men to give up their male privilege and support women’s liberation in the interest of our humanity and their own.

    And I’ve always been baffled by that. What exactly does it mean to “give up their male privilege”? I can be conscious of it, but I don’t even know what “give up their male privilege” would entail.

  • freehand

    doublereed says: What exactly does it mean to “give up their male privilege”? I can be conscious of it, but I don’t even know what “give up their male privilege” would entail.”

    .

    Surgery.

  • http://lykex.livejournal.com LykeX

    jaybee #6

    Absolutely. That was a good way to illustrate it.

    An important part of privilege, I think, is the ability to be oblivious to it. As such, I think such exercises are important. It reminds me of studies of race identity. Part of the reason why white people react so poorly in racial matters is that we’re not used to having our race be a thing. Being reminded that you have a race at all can be unsettling and may cause people to react aggressively in response. I think that’s why some people resist the notion of privilege.

  • http://florilegia.wordpress.com Ibis3, These verbal jackboots were made for walking

    @doublereed

    I read that as “work to level the playing field, towards a world where people who aren’t male will have the same opportunities as you; do what you can to dismantle systemic bias that you encounter even if it means giving up something that society thinks you’re entitled to just because you’re a white man”.

  • Lesbian Catnip

    #12:

    Crap. I read the YouTube comments.

    Might I suggest you install this Chrome app to remove Youtube comments? My mental health has never been better.

    https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/hide-youtube-comments/kehdmnjmaakacofbgmjgjapbbibhafoh?hl=en

  • Lesbian Catnip

    doublereed says: What exactly does it mean to “give up their male privilege”? I can be conscious of it, but I don’t even know what “give up their male privilege” would entail.”

    .

    Surgery.

    Also no. Trans women lose male privilege regardless of what status their genitals are.

    If you want to give up your privilege, extend it to others.

  • Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y

    Privilege : So simple a concept really but seemingly so hard to get one’s head around and realise it applies to you around so much deeper the more you look into it. Mea culpa. It also seems to almost naturally (?) repel people and put them on the defensive. Privileged? No, not me!!! Because .. and so many superficially good yet actually not valid reasons.

    It seems like it would have helped if the sociology-types who codified the concept hadn’t decided to create a term-of-art label for it by appropriating a word that, to the rest of society, connotes either “movie-star rich” (which the listener self-evidently isn’t) or, alternatively, “spoiled brat.”

    I guess that ship’s sailed, though.