Simply put, privilege is an advantage that a person or a group of people has. Generally speaking, privilege tends to be associated to wealth and social class (class privilege). If you are rich, from a higher social class – the elite – you are privileged. Privilege allows us to gain access to better jobs, better opportunities in life, more contacts, better homes, and so on.
Just because you are privileged does not necessarily mean you are lazy and you did not work hard for your success. However, you would have had to work twice (if not thrice and more) as hard to achieve the same success without your privilege.
Most importantly, privilege does not only come from wealth. A closer look at society and its structures will soon reveal multiple forms of privilege that make certain groups of people’s lives easier. If we look at any social hierarchy, those at the bottom would be classified as the “oppressed” and those at the top of the pyramid would be the “privileged”. Those privileged people at the top often contribute to and perpetuate, intentionally or not, the oppression of those at the bottom. Some of these privileges include:
Especially when observing racism in Western societies, being classified as “white” is generally a social advantage. White privilege is the flipside of the racism coin: we cannot truly understand racism unless we also examine the way it privileges white people.
You can reflect on your own access to white privilege by completing this White Privilege Test.
Interestingly, within groups of colour, lighter-skinned people of colour tend to be advantaged. Light-skinned privilege is what continues to boost the sale of skin-whitening products in many African and Asian countries. It can be seen in the casting of major movies, advertisements and music videos all around the world. Light-skinned privilege is the flipside of colorism.
Hair privilege is very much connected to anti-black racism which tends to favour straight or wavy hair and which tends to disfavour denser, woolly, Afro-textured hair.
In a patriarchal society – where men have historically held more power – male privilege refers to the advantage given to men over women.
Cis-gender privilege refers to the advantage given to people who identify with the sexual identity they were born with. Trans-people do not have access to this privilege.
Heterosexual privilege advantages people who are attracted to the opposite gender and it disadvantages homosexual people and people with different sexual orientations.
Able-bodied privilege advantages people who do not have any physical disabilities.
Thin privilege benefits skinnier people and shames or disadvantages fat people.
Caste privilege is very much like class privilege as it benefits people who belong to upper castes.
The privilege list could go on!