If you’re someone who bristles at the mention of the word “privilege,” I understand that it can be uncomfortable to confront the ways in which our society is structured to benefit some and disadvantage others. However, it’s important to remember that acknowledging privilege doesn’t diminish your accomplishments or hard work. Instead, recognizing privilege allows us to see the ways in which our societal structures and biases give certain individuals a head start in life.
By acknowledging and addressing these inequalities, we can work towards a more just and equitable society for all. So, I invite you to take a step back and consider why you might resist thinking about privilege. My experience is that if we can get past the discomfort (and fear), we can work towards creating a more equitable world that is better for all of us.
Unseen Things We Take for Granted
Privilege is a concept that describes the unearned advantages and benefits that some individuals enjoy due to their social identity, background, or circumstances. Privilege can take many forms, including white privilege, American privilege, monied privilege, educated privilege, and adult privilege, to name a few. Acknowledging our privilege is essential to understanding and addressing the inequalities within our communities.
It’s common for people to view their privilege as something that they have earned through their own hard work and dedication. While it’s true that personal effort and talent play a role in individual success, it’s important to acknowledge that privilege, in simply the form of the family or community we were born into and or raised within, plays a significant role.
It’s important to recognize that no one deserves or earns their privilege, just as no one deserves or earns their disadvantage. Up to a certain point, we are all products of circumstances beyond our control, and acknowledging privilege doesn’t diminish individual accomplishments or hard work. Instead, recognizing privilege can help us better understand the systemic inequalities in our society and work towards creating a more equitable future for everyone, allowing us to act on and influence that which we can control.
White privilege is the most well-known and discussed the type of privilege. It refers to the advantages that white individuals experience in society simply because of their race. White privilege can manifest in many ways, such as walking through a store without being followed or harassed, having access to better education, healthcare, and job opportunities, and being seen as the default or norm in society. White privilege crosses ethnic, geographic, and at times even racial boundaries, in which “lightness” is akin to “whiteness,” you might say.
Today, let’s broaden our exploration of privilege beyond just white privilege. I believe that examining other types of privilege can deepen our understanding of the concept and also help us see why some individuals may deny the existence of white privilege because they do not identify with other privileged groups described below.
I do want to highlight that even as a white person married to a Black person, it is still possible to hold racist beliefs or unintentionally leverage our privilege. This is because racism is a systemic issue ingrained in society, and it takes ongoing effort to unlearn and dismantle it. It’s important to listen to and learn from our partner’s experiences and perspectives and to challenge any biases or harmful behaviors we may hold actively. Healing requires acknowledging and apologizing for any harm caused, committing to ongoing education and growth, and actively working to amplify and support marginalized voices and communities. It’s a continual process, but one that is essential for creating a more just and equitable world.
American privilege is a type of privilege that most Americans have never even considered, particularly when focusing on their own day-to-day problems. It refers to the advantages that individuals from the United States experience when traveling or living abroad. American privilege can manifest in many ways, such as easily obtaining visas and travel documents, accessing English-speaking resources and services, and being perceived as powerful and influential in the international community.
American privilege can manifest in subtle ways that may not immediately be apparent. One aspect of this privilege is the ease with which Americans can access trusted banks and online banking services. In many countries, the financial system may not be as stable or trustworthy as it is in the United States, making it difficult for people to manage their money or access certain financial services; this is particularly true in African countries, such as Madagascar.
Another component of American privilege is a cultural and political privilege, which is evident when Americans travel or live abroad. As Americans, we often carry with us the assumptions and stereotypes that come with our country’s history and culture. In some cases, this can mean that we are treated differently or more favorably than other people of color who are not from the United States.
For example, an American Black person may be allowed into a restaurant in Paris wearing a t-shirt and jeans, while a French Black person may not be granted the same access. An American Black person may be described as “hard-working” and someone from Madagascar as “lazy.” This is a clear example of how American privilege can manifest in racialized ways that are not always immediately apparent and which highlight the many layers of privilege, racism, and even colonial thinking that persist.
It’s important for us to acknowledge our American privilege, particularly when we travel or live abroad. By recognizing the ways in which we may be advantaged simply because of our nationality, we can work towards creating a more equitable and just world. This can mean actively listening to and amplifying the voices of those who are marginalized and underrepresented, supporting policies and initiatives that promote equality and justice, and holding space for those without privilege.
Monied privilege consists of the advantages that individuals with wealth and financial stability experience in society, including generational wealth. Monied privilege can manifest in many ways, such as being able to afford high-quality education, healthcare, and housing, access to better job opportunities and networking resources, and avoiding the consequences of financial hardship.
For those who lack financial stability, the experience of monied privilege can be a visceral one. It can mean going without necessities like food and shelter, choosing between healthcare or paying rent, and not having access to education or job opportunities that could provide a path to financial stability. However, those with money and financial stability often do not see the privilege that comes with it. This lack of awareness can lead to the assumption that everyone has equal opportunities, regardless of their financial circumstances. This is a key difference between monied privilege and other types of privilege, such as white privilege or educated privilege, which are often more visible and discussed in society.
It’s important to note that the experience of lacking money is often used as an argument against acknowledging racial privilege. The vital idea is that if someone works hard enough, they can achieve success and financial stability regardless of their race. However, the reality is that even when two people work equally hard, the one with financial stability and the accompanying privilege, including generational wealth, has a much greater chance of success than the one without.
It is crucial to highlight that the experience of lacking money or feeling money stress is not the same as experiencing racial discrimination or poverty. While the two experiences can overlap and intersect, it’s important to recognize that they are distinct and should be addressed as such.
Educated privilege refers to the advantages that individuals with higher education degrees experience in society. Educated privilege can manifest in many ways, such as obtaining higher-paying jobs, having access to more prestigious and exclusive social networks, and being perceived as more intelligent and capable.
Adult privilege is another type of privilege that you may argue doesn’t exist. It refers to the advantages that individuals over a certain age experience in society. Adult privilege can manifest in many ways, such as voting and participating in politics, having access to more job opportunities and career advancement, and being seen as more responsible and trustworthy.
Adult privilege can also manifest in ways that are less visible. For example, adults may make decisions and declarations for their children without considering their wishes or emotions. Children are often not seen as fully human, and the issues that stem from this show up for years in therapy and coaching sessions.
Acknowledging our adult privilege is essential to creating safe and effective educational opportunities and raising healthy and psychologically adjusted adults. This doesn’t mean hat adults cannot make decisions for kids, but rather that it requires us to recognize our place of “power” and be cognizant that we are truly acting in the best interest of our children.
Indeed, privilege requires that we know the advantages and benefits we have received simply because of our social identity, background, or circumstances, including age. We are also responsible for holding the space and opening doors for those without privilege or with limited privileged, such as children.
Technological privilege is another type of privilege that is becoming increasingly prevalent today. It refers to the advantages that individuals with access to technology and the internet experience in various aspects of their lives. Those with access to technology and the internet can easily access vast amounts of information, connect with people worldwide, and complete tasks more efficiently. If you are reading this article, you can access this form of privilege.
However, it is important to recognize that not everyone can access technology and the internet. Lack of access to technology and the internet can profoundly affect a person’s ability to access education, job opportunities, and even basic necessities like healthcare. Therefore, it is important to consider how technological privilege can perpetuate existing inequalities and work towards ensuring that everyone has access to this important resource.
Generational trauma is the psychological, emotional, and social impact of traumatic events experienced by a group of people over time. This trauma can be passed down from generation to generation, shaping the experiences and opportunities of descendants. When trauma is passed down through generations, it can negate or work against the privilege that some individuals or groups may experience. For example, if an individual’s ancestors were enslaved, they may have inherited a legacy of trauma that affects their mental health, educational opportunities, and economic mobility.
Similarly, if an individual’s ancestors were victims of systemic oppression or discrimination, they may have inherited a legacy of trauma that affects their sense of belonging and their ability to access certain social, economic, and educational opportunities. In these cases, the effects of generational trauma can work against any privilege that an individual may have based on other factors such as race or socioeconomic status. It’s important to acknowledge and address the impact of generational trauma to promote healing and equity for all.
As individuals with privilege, we have a unique position of power and influence in society. We can use our privilege to advocate for those who are marginalized and disadvantaged. We can support policies and initiatives that promote equality and justice. We can also actively listen to and amplify the voices of those who are often unheard and underrepresented.
So What Now?
In conclusion, privilege is a complex and multifaceted concept that affects us all differently. Considering and, where relevant, acknowledging our privilege is essential in creating a more just and equitable society. If you see that you benefit from one or more of the types of privilege mentioned here, think about how you personally might hold the space and be aware of those without your privilege.
Healing privilege and trauma require first acknowledgment and then a commitment to creating a fair society that provides equal opportunities for all individuals, regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic status. This means addressing systemic inequities and ensuring that everyone has access to the resources they need to live a fulfilling life.
A just and equitable society is one where everyone can thrive, and no one is held back by the color of their skin, their gender, their age, or their family’s financial circumstances. It’s a society where everyone is valued and respected and where diversity is celebrated rather than shunned. Achieving a just and equitable society requires a willingness to listen to marginalized voices, challenge systems of oppression, and work together.
It’s an ongoing process that requires persistence and dedication, but it’s a goal that is well worth striving for.
What are some specific things I might do?
One important step is to listen to and learn from those who have been marginalized and oppressed and to work on challenging and dismantling systems of oppression actively. This may involve modifying our behavior, language, and expectations in a number of ways, including:
- Examining our own biases and privilege: It’s important to reflect on our own experiences and biases and to consider how they may have contributed to systemic inequities. We can create a more equitable world by acknowledging our privilege and being more aware of our biases.
- Using inclusive language: Language and word choice are powerful tools; it’s important to use language that is inclusive and respectful of all individuals. This may involve using gender-neutral language, avoiding offensive terms, and using language that reflects the diversity of the people around us. Certain vocabulary can take or give away an individual’s or group’s power, dignity, and or respect.
- Supporting marginalized communities: One way to address systemic inequities is to support marginalized communities through advocacy, activism, and philanthropy. This may involve volunteering for organizations that support marginalized communities, donating money to causes that promote equity, or using our own privilege and resources to support those who are less privileged.
- Being open to learning and growth: Healing privilege and trauma requires a willingness to learn and grow and to be open to new ideas and perspectives. This may involve seeking out diverse voices and experiences, reading and learning about the experiences of marginalized communities, and being open to feedback and criticism.
- Learn Nonviolent Communication (NVC): NVC fosters empathy, understanding, and connection. It’s based on honesty, compassion, and mutual respect, avoiding power dynamics or judgment. It can create a safe and supportive environment for individuals to express their feelings and needs, especially for those who have experienced trauma or marginalization. NVC helps break down power dynamics reinforced by privilege by encouraging listening and valuing perspectives. It builds empathy and connection, essential for healing from trauma and addressing privilege, creating a more just and equitable society.
By taking these steps, we can work towards healing privilege and trauma and creating a more just and equitable society for all. It’s important to remember that this work is ongoing and that we must remain committed to creating a better world for ourselves and future generations.