What is…Privilege?

If you spend enough time reading social justice-themed content, you will have probably come across the word privilege a ton. You may have read about white privilege, straight privilege, male privilege, and so on. This is a term we hear even more in light of the death of George Floyd and the protests since then, and particularly in the context of white privilege.

But what is privilege?

In the social justice world, people with a certain kind of privilege are people with unearned advantages simply on the basis of their identity. Therefore, when you hear someone talk about “white privilege,” that person is talking about unearned advantages from being white; when someone talks about “straight privilege,” that person is talking about unearned advantages from being heterosexual; when someone talks about “male privilege,” that person is talking about unearned advantages from being male.

The most common misunderstanding I come across about privilege is that, if you’re described as having a particular type of privilege (example: white privilege), it’s an insult. To the contrary, it’s not an insult, but instead a statement that, since you’re white, you’re not as likely to experience certain negative things that many people of color experience, not because you actually did, expected, asked for, or earned anything, but simply because you’re white.

That being said, if you have a certain privilege based on your identity (regardless of what part of your identity involves privilege),[1] there may be times when you may hear a phrase such as “you’re showing your white privilege” or “not everyone has straight privilege.” You may’ve even heard of the phrase “check your privilege.” These sorts of phrases are variations of someone else telling you to, in the words of an Everyday Feminism piece, “reflect on the ways that your social status might have given you an advantage – even if you didn’t ask for it or earn it – while their social status might have given them a disadvantage.”[2] While a phrase like “check your privilege” is often viewed as an insult, even by many in the online world, I encourage those who are told to check their privilege (or some variation of that) to learn about how your privilege affects you (or how a lack of privilege for certain groups affects others) instead of getting defensive.

Instead of being an insult (which is how some people view it), privilege is more than anything else a shorthand explanation for how whites (without explanation) face less scrutiny from law enforcement than people of color, for how family rejection is much more likely to happen with gay and lesbian couples than straight couples, for how a man is much less likely to be sexually assaulted than a woman, and so on. Some groups have unearned advantages while others don’t (or have unearned disadvantages); for that reason, understanding privilege and how it affects certain groups of people is important.

This is part of the “what is” series.


[1] It’s worth noting that it’s possible for someone to have one kind of privilege but not another. For example, it’s possible to have straight privilege but not the privilege of being white, or the privilege of being white but not male privilege.

[2] https://everydayfeminism.com/2015/07/what-checking-privilege-means/

Coronavirus Update From New York City: June 11, 2020

First of all, I apologize for getting this post out very late in the evening. Today,,and this week, quite frankly, have been extremely busy and hectic for me, and one result of that is a post that’s coming out later than I had hoped.

Anyway, New York City started the first phase of reopening last Monday. What this means is that industries such as non-essential construction, manufacturing, and wholesale trade (to name a few) are getting back in business here. For more details on what this first phase involves, I encourage you to visit the section of my state’s website that addresses what industries can open up during this first phase.

I must emphasize that this is only the beginning of the reopening process. Not everything is open–far from it. In fact, different regions in New York State are opening in phases, and there are four phases involved in reopening. I’ve heard that some regions are up to the third phase of four, which means that said regions are seemingly getting close to normal. New York City, however, has some work to do before getting to even the third phase, as we have barely entered the first phase. We are continuing in the right direction here in New York City, but we still have a little ways to go, I think, before we get back to “normal,” whether that be the old normal or a “new normal.”

As to where that leaves me, I have an office job, so I am in what you may call a “Phase Two” industry (the next phase of reopening). What this means is that, as we head towards the end of June, I might have the ability to go to my physical office again, with “might” being the key word. The reason I use the word might is because there’s no rush to get back to the physical office I work in, as the office I work in has discovered that we can by-in-large do 95% of our the tasks from home. Even when we do reopen our physical office, I’m expecting this “new normal” to look different from the old normal.

So, that’s pretty much it from me, and again, my apologies for getting this post published so late today. I hope others are doing well!

Letting Love Win (Pride Month Edition)

Content warnings: Homophobia, transphobia, suicide

As readers can probably guess by the content I have on my blog, I am LGBTQ+-affirming and do the best I can to be an ally for the LGBTQ+ community. When I say that I am affirming, it means that I believe that LGBTQ+ identity is valid, that a consensual same-sex relationship is not wrong, and that a change in gender identity can be in the best interests of someone’s mental health (to name a few key items).

However, it was not always that way. In fact, for a long time, it was the opposite—I was highly rejecting of anyone who identified themselves as being in the LGBTQ+ community. Given how divided many opinions still are on LGBTQ+ issues, and given the lessons that I think can be drawn from my story, I am opening up on here (after lots of encouragement from friends) about my journey from rejecting to affirming of LGBTQ+ individuals.

As many people know, I am a Christian. More specifically, I am a Catholic Christian. Growing up, two of the things I heard over and over again were that homosexual actions are a sin and that changing your body from the way it was created is also sinful. I never heard a single Christian say otherwise until I started to know fellow Christians who, like me, were affirming of people with LGBTQ+ identity—something that only happened in the last few years. I wasn’t taught about things like same-sex marriage and changing one’s gender identity as anything other than as a sin.

Given that fact, when I did talk about LGBTQ+ issues in high school and for some of college, what I said reflected what I had heard. For example, just as the things I was taught were against same-sex marriage, I gave a speech in front of a class at a summer camp that was also against same-sex marriage. The homophobia of that speech is one of the biggest regrets of my life, and I sincerely hope that speech didn’t emotionally harm anyone who listened.

So, what changed with me? Actually, a number of personal events and happenings listed here (not in chronological order), as well as some personal events and happenings not listed here, helped change the way I thought about LGBTQ+ issues:

  1. On multiple occasions, I felt a call from God to reach out to someone who just so happens to identify as LGBTQ+ with encouragement, support, and love. That call from God[1] was on multiple occasions quite possibly the difference between life and death for the person I reached out to. Yes, I’m saying that there are people who might not be alive today if I remained homophobic and transphobic.
  2. Speaking of people who are not alive today, I learned a few months ago about a blogger I followed who died by suicide, and apparently one of the contributing factors in them[2] deciding to take their life was how others treated them for identifying as transgender. This reinforced to me (as if I needed any further reinforcement) the fact that the way we treat LGBTQ+ people can literally be the difference between life and death.
  3. Even when love and support was not the difference between life and death, that posture of love and support still made a major difference. For example, my friend Joe,[3] who I first got to know because of a mentor-mentee program that my college’s chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship had with a chapter of InterVarsity that was trying to form on another nearby campus, had struggled with the fact that he’s gay. However, he came out to me, and since then, I can tell that his coming out to me helped him love himself for who he is.
  4. Speaking of Joe, it has also helped to get to know friends (including Joe) who identify as LGBTQ+. Getting to know LGBTQ+ people changed my perspective in so many ways, ranging from my exposure to the harm caused by homophobia and transphobia, to my exposure to various LGBTQ+ terms I had not known of before (something that Joe, to his credit, worked with me on…a lot).

I used terms such as love and support throughout these four events and happenings. Therefore, one may be tempted to ask: “Brendan, why then are you affirming instead of loving but not affirming?”

While the personal events I mentioned above were certainly helpful in forming my current attitudes, learning various facts about LGBTQ+ topics and mental health also helped solidify my mindset. For example, I learned that gender-affirming procedures significantly improve mental health outcomes for people who identify as transgender.[4] I also learned that being in a legally-recognized same-sex relationship, and particularly a marriage, appears to have positive mental health outcomes for those couples.[5] Given my experience with having LGBTQ+ friends on the brink of suicide, as well as my awareness of the statistics when it comes to LGBTQ+ people and suicide,[6] I am all for anything that can decrease the chances of suicide.[7]

This is my story on how I became affirming, but why should my story matter? For a while, I wasn’t sure why (or if) my story would matter, and I certainly didn’t want to drown out the voices of people who tell their stories of being LGBTQ+; these were two major reasons why it took this long for me to share. However, I think that there is value in this story for people struggling with LGBTQ+ theology, and for people who are LGBTQ+ and struggling to find people who they can talk with. I also think that the extent to which homophobia and transphobia harms people is a “blind injustice.” Most of all, I think there is value in showing how much of an impact we can have when we let love win.

This post is dedicated to the memory of the aforementioned blogger who took their life. In their second-to-last tweet on Twitter, one of the things they asked for after they were gone was for people to love everyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

If you are an LGBTQ+ individual in immediate crisis (regardless of whether you are a runaway, are contemplating suicide, or are finding yourself in some other difficult situation), I encourage you to consult this list of hotlines compiled by PFLAG: https://pflag.org/hotlines


[1] I believe that it was a call from God for me to do what I did. That being said, I understand that there are skeptics and nonbelievers who might be reading this. If you are among the skeptics or nonbelievers, the purpose of the usage of God here is not to convert you to my faith, but to show you how my faith played a major role in my story.

[2] I followed this blogger for a relatively short period of time, so I don’t know what the blogger’s preferred pronouns were. Therefore, I’m going with gender-neutral they/them pronouns here.

[3] I got Joe’s stamp of approval to share all that I share about him here.

[4] Quite a bit of research has been done on this, notably by the Yale School of Public Health. You can read the findings from the Yale study here: https://medicine.yale.edu/news-article/21447/

[5] Research has been done on this as well, including from the American Journal of Public Health. If you are interested in reading the full piece, you can do so here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3558785/

[6] I wrote about these statistics in a previous blog post: https://blindinjusticeblog.com/2019/07/05/on-the-acceptance-of-lgbtq-people-in-families/

[7] One of the most well-known aspects of Catholic theology is the commitment to all human life, from conception to natural death. This refrain is usually used for abortion, but this refrain is relevant to me for LGBTQ+ issues as well, since I realize that our treatment of LGBTQ+ individuals can make the difference between life and death.

Coronavirus Update From New York City: June 4, 2020

The news in recent days has focused more on the unjust police killing of George Floyd (and its aftermath) than the coronavirus, and understandably so. That being said, as there is an ongoing coronavirus situation in my city and state, I would like to provide my usual weekly update.

On all fronts, everyone in my family is doing physically okay. All of us remain healthy, though allergies definitely continue to be an issue! The other day I had a coughing fit because of those allergies while I was outside, and I was legitimately worried that someone would confront me for the coughing fit! Thankfully, that didn’t happen.

While I already mentioned above that I’m not going to go too much into the situation with the anti-racism protests in New York, it’s worth my mentioning that I don’t live near the center of it all, so the abnormally heavy police presence that some of you may be hearing about from New York doesn’t apply to me. It applies to my friends who live in or near areas where these protests are happening, though.

New York City seems to be continuing to go in the right direction with regards to the coronavirus. We have not started our reopening process yet, but Governor Cuomo has said that if we continue heading in the right direction in New York City, we might be able to begin the reopening process on June 8th. Fingers crossed. Hopefully by this time next week, I will be talking about a New York City that’s beginning a safe reopening process.

People may be wondering how the protests over systemic racism (which I unequivocally support, not that the protests need my support) may affect COVID rates. Based on what I’ve seen on television, it looks like the overwhelming majority of protesters are wearing face masks, which are key in trying to keep the coronavirus from transmitting to others (even if you have it yourself). Since so many of the protesters are wearing face masks, I am not as worried as some about how the protests may affect coronavirus transmission. We’ll see if my lack of worry holds true.

I hope others are doing okay!

On the Policing of People of Color and the Death of George Floyd

Someone with a face mask that says “I can’t breathe.” “I can’t breathe” was said by Eric Garner as he was killed by police in New York several years ago, and it was also said by George Floyd recently as he was killed by Minneapolis police.

On Monday, May 25th, George Floyd, an unarmed person of color, was killed by a Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for several minutes, even after he was handcuffed.

This was an extremely disturbing story—so disturbing that I am choosing not to show yet again to people the image of this officer kneeling on Floyd. It was yet another example of police using excessive force on an unarmed person of color.

And yet, at times over the past week, I have struggled to figure out what to say about the killing of Floyd. After all, I am white, I am conscious that I have a lot of privilege that comes with being white, and the last thing I want to do is drown out the voices of people of color advocating for justice. But then, I found that I did feel compelled to say some things, so here you go…

Growing up in New York City with all the friends of color my brother and I had, it was clear that there was a major disparity between the way the two of us were policed and the way our friends of color were policed. The two of us never got stopped, searched, or frisked by the police, but our friends of color frequently experienced that—so frequently that people would call it “walking while brown.” The stories of frequent stops from our friends also matched statistics for stop-and-frisk in New York City—blacks and Hispanics at one point made up only half of the population, but 85% of the stops.[1] I can go on and on with the statistics and the stories related to stop-and-frisk, but to read more, I encourage you to read my blog post about the institutional racism in the way I was policed. So when people suggest that racism does not exist with policing, I have personal experiences that show otherwise. Racism exists in policing.

What I didn’t do as much in that post on institutional racism and policing was show how said racism goes well beyond stop-and-frisk; after all, I was focused on my own experiences of privilege in that post. So, while an entire book could probably be written on racial disparities in the way people are policed (or are generally handled in the criminal justice system), here are some lowlights:

  • Blacks are 3.64 times as likely to get arrested for marijuana use as whites, even though usage rates are comparable. In some cases, those rates have become worse, even with the current push towards legalization in some parts of the country.[2]
  • Staying on the topic of drugs, even though usage of illegal drugs is comparable between blacks and whites, blacks are five times as likely as whites to go to prison for illegal drug possession.[3]
  • On average, police seem to require less suspicion of black and Hispanic drivers before they are pulled over than white drivers.[4] This statistic is particularly relevant to the current discourse on policing and people of color, as a few years ago a traffic stop of Philando Castile, a person of color, led to his being killed by a police officer.
  • Innocent blacks are about seven times more likely to be convicted for a murder they didn’t commit than whites.[5]
  • Unarmed blacks are about 3.49 times as likely to get shot by the police as unarmed whites.[6]

“How does this all relate to the killing of George Floyd?” you may ask. Floyd’s killing shows that the police murder of Mr. Floyd does not exist in a bubble. Far from it. To the contrary, this killing is a microcosm of a larger problem: there are vast racial disparities in the way people are policed in the United States of America.


[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonoberholtzer/2012/07/17/stop-and-frisk-by-the-numbers/#43c323106703

[2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/tomangell/2020/04/20/on-420-aclu-highlights-racist-marijuana-enforcement-in-new-report/#229dc03f7487

[3] http://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Documents/Race_and_Wrongful_Convictions.pdf

[4] https://openpolicing.stanford.edu/findings/

[5] http://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Documents/Race_and_Wrongful_Convictions.pdf

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4634878/