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 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!