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Privilege 101

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Privilege is often discussed on MetaFilter, and people entering late to the conversation often get bogged down in arguments about what exactly the term means.

While there’s no absolute consensus, this comment by Bunny Ultramod does a good job of capturing “privilege” as it is recognized by most MeFites:

'“(...) it means that, all things being equal, some people will have certain benefits that others won't on the basis of a complex social we [sic] that tends to support one group more than another. There is a history of leaving certain people disadvantaged in this country. And we all have different privileges. Whites tend to have more advantages and less disadvantages in this society than black people. But black men are going to have certain advantages over women, and women over the disabled, and white disabled people over black people, and so on. It's not that some are at the top of the heap and others aren't. It's that society confers certain benefits, and we get some, and, depending on who we are, we lack some. So a poor white person is going to lack privileges that a rich white person will have -- privileges conferred by class. But they will enjoy privileges that are denied black people -- privileges conferred by skin color. And so it goes, not because any individual person is seeking to be privileges over another (although some will fight for their privileges), or because they are even aware of the presence of those privileges. But, instead, because those privileges at some point advantaged somebody who had power, and, as a result, were embedded into the larger culture.

Recognizing that you have these privileges doesn't mean you hate yourself for being white, or wish you were't white, or feel some sort of unearned guilt over your skin color (or gender, or whatever). Instead, it means knowing that you're part of a history and a society that wasn't always perfectly fair, and created institutions that benefitted from that lack of fairness, and some of those institutions still exist, and you still, without doing anything at all, get some of those benefits. And, from my perspective, it's useful to know this. Because I believe in a just society, but it can't exist unless we can identify unjust, even when it is accidentally to our benefit.”'