Privilege and What it Means to Have It

A huge part of intersectional feminism is being cognizant of issues that may not affect you directly. This is why it is necessary to discuss privilege and what it means to have it.

There are many different types of privilege rooted in identity. These identities are often things that we are born with and not a result of something we chose to be. With this being said, these privileges are afforded to certain people as a by-product of social constructs rooted in long standing histories of colonialism, patriarchy, and resulting prejudices. This is not to say that anyone should feel guilty about having privilege, as guilt does nothing to remedy the situation, but that it is necessary to think critically about what it means to have it. Even though these injustices have been largely inherited, and because those with privilege continue to benefit from them, if we chose to ignore them simply because we were not responsible for their inception, we have more than enough to feel guilty about.

The type of privilege most talked about in feminist circles is white, male privilege. While an important part of discussions of patriarchy, the two are not mutually exclusive nor exhaustive of the many ways identity affords privilege. Identity privilege can be found through race, class, sex, sexual orientation, and able-bodied-ness (to name a few).

For example, white privilege means never having to fear that the police might hurt you because the colour of your skin makes you look suspicious. Heterosexual privilege affords the ability to be open about a romantic relationship without fear of violence. Able-bodied privilege means never having to worry about planning the most accessible route when leaving home. Cis-gendered privilege means never having to experience the anxiety of using a public bathroom assigned to the gender with which you identify and not the one with which you were given at birth.

Chances are, if you have any of these privileges, acknowledging that fact makes you uncomfortable (assuming that you wouldn’t be so bold as to deny that privilege even exists). This is good. Feeling uncomfortable is a necessary part of unlearning oppressive behaviours. If you are able to acknowledge the privileges that you do have, this means that you are aware of prejudices you may have internalized throughout your lifetime and how they may be expressed through your thoughts or actions – and, most importantly, that you are actively trying to unlearn them.

When it comes to discussions of privilege, people have a tendency to get defensive. The point of this discussion is not to attack those who possess privilege, but to draw attention to the ways in which privilege benefits some at the expense of others. The problem is not having privilege; the problem is having it and doing nothing positive with it for those who don’t.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

Toronto, Canada

Feminist, Social Justice Advocate, and Political Science Nerd. (Instagram: @feminiiista)

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