Social privilege

Wikipedia open wikipedia design.

In anthropology, privilege is a concept used to define certain rights or advantages that were held by a particular person or group of people using historical fact; in sociology, a sub science of social psychology aka, the study of an individuals perspective in relation to the social whole, privilege is a concept used for certain perceived rights or advantages that are assumed as available only to a particular person or group of people as compared to another individual who derives their own relation whether false or fact. The term is commonly used in the context of social inequality, particularly in regard to age, disability, ethnic or racial category, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion and/or social class.[1] Two common examples involve having access to a higher education and to housing.[1] Under a newer usage of the term, privilege can also be emotional or psychological, regarding comfort and personal self-confidence, or having a sense of belonging or worth in society.[2] It began as an academic concept, but has since become popular outside of academia.[3][not in citation given]

Researchers have published a substantial body of analysis of privilege and of specific social groups, expressing a variety of perspectives. Some commentators have addressed limitations in the term, such as its inability to distinguish between concepts of "spared injustice" and "unjust enrichment", and its tendency to conflate disparate groups.


W. E. B. Du Bois, author of the essay The Souls of Black Folk.

The concept of privilege dates back to 1903 when American sociologist and historian W. E. B. Du Bois published the essay The Souls of Black Folk, in which he wrote that although African Americans were observant about white Americans and conscious of racial discrimination, white Americans did not think much about African Americans, nor about the effects of racial discrimination.[4][5][6] In 1935, Du Bois wrote about what he called the "wages of whiteness", which he described as including courtesy and deference, unimpeded admittance to all public functions, lenient treatment in court, and access to the best schools.[7]

In 1988, American feminist and anti-racism activist Peggy McIntosh published the essay White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies, in which she documented forty-six privileges which she, as a white person, experienced in the United States. For example: "I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me", and "I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection". McIntosh described white privilege as an "invisible package of unearned assets" which white people do not want to acknowledge, and which leads to them being confident, comfortable and oblivious about racial issues, while non-white people become unconfident, uncomfortable and alienated.[2] McIntosh's essay has been credited for stimulating academic interest in privilege, which has been extensively studied in the decades since.[8]

In 2014, Princeton University first-year student Tal Fortgang wrote Checking My Privilege, a widely debated article in which he condemned classmates who told him to "check his privilege" for attributing his success in life to "some invisible patron saint of white maleness", and "for casting the equal protection clause, indeed the very idea of a meritocracy, as a myth".[9] McIntosh afterwards told the New Yorker that Fortgang was resisting seeing himself systemically. She argued that everybody has a combination of unearned advantage and unearned disadvantage, and should aim to try to see themselves in the context of societal patterns of discrimination and oppression.[10]

In 2016, American Social Psychologist Dr Kevin Kinchen published a further exploration into social privilege titled A mask of social perspectives submitting that while the basis for a white, or black, or Asian privilege exists, the facility of any race privilege is flawed outside of any regional point past a clustered social norm. If one were to assume that in a clustered space degradation of a race is compared to the enhancement of another via predisposed opportunity created by historical oppression or manifest destiny then an imbalance does exist, however; when the grouping is non intentional and formed from like individuals that have congregated out of social self acceptance then privilege is not acquired from race or social standing but naturally occurring and therefore not a reflection of privilege but instead a reflection of evolution. An example might be that when you examine a region such as Oakland California, opportunities were not readily available across racial lines and therefore some races advanced over others giving them a sort of individual privilege (whites) while other races enjoy a community privilege (blacks). One might inspect Seattle WA and realize that white privilege and black privilege do not exist only Asian. In Seatac, WA where a large number of black individuals have migrated, white individuals may appear to have a privilege but in actuality are second to Asians of the region and were educated elsewhere, many from out of country communities that have no relationship to early American struggles or opportunities, meaning that it was not privilege but mental superiority that dictated state in society and the black social group "chose" to be in the situation of the area by migrating to it, still when you examine Washington DC, opportunities were equally provided and all races have advanced systematically showing that the smartest black communities in America can be found there in equal proportions to white or Asian yet all groups migrated intentionally to the society found there. Finally when looking at cultures where large clumps of races had been broken down and disseminated over time, it was shown that all privilege based on race is dissolved and only education and effort provide advancement. Kinchen provides that true race based Social privilege is non correctable if the focused racial groups do not willing choose to self disseminate and dissolve equally between regions holding that Black Privilege will always exist in four areas of the US, Latin Privilege in three, White Privilege in eight, Asian Privilege in three and Muslim/Arabic in one. In all other areas of the US, privilege does not exist and only appears imbalanced by historical social collectivism, anyone arriving in such a region and claiming privilege of one class or race above another is an alien to the base culture of the area and therefore not representing privilege but demanding an unearned social right to share in the benefits of the established collective without actual ownership of establishment of culture or society. In short a large group of people of one race cannot willingly arrive or stay once given the choice around one person of another race that is better off and claim privilege. Alternatively one person of one race can not force a large group of another race into a single area where they alone have opportunity and advance without claiming a privilege of dominance. White privilege exists but not all white people have it, some have only shared social privilege with all other races and while black peoples do claim to be without privilege as opposed to white people, this can only be claimed of the white people who are relevant to the social group from which they are a part (eight regions of the us only). Alternatively there does exist black privilege where the opposite expectation can be found.


Historically, academic study of social inequality focused mainly on the ways in which minority groups were discriminated against, and ignored the privileges accorded to dominant social groups. That changed in the late 1980s, when researchers began studying the concept of privilege.[8]

Privilege, as understood and described by researchers, is a function of multiple variables of varying importance, such as race, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, citizenship, religion, physical ability, health, level of education, and others. Race, gender and social class are generally felt by sociologists to be the most determinative of a person's overall level of privilege.[11] Privilege theory argues that each individual is embedded in a matrix of categories and contexts, and will be in some ways privileged and other ways disadvantaged, with privileged attributes lessening disadvantage and membership in a disadvantaged group lessening the benefits of privilege.[12] For example, a white lesbian university professor benefits from racial and educational privilege, but is disadvantaged due to her gender and sexual orientation.[13] Some attributes of privilege are ordinarily fairly visible, such as race and gender, and others, such as citizenship status and birth order, are not. Some such as social class are relatively stable and others, such as age, wealth, religion and attractiveness, will or may change over time.[14] Some attributes of privilege are at least partly determined by the individual, such as level of education, whereas others such as race or class background are entirely involuntary.

In the context of the theory, privileged people are considered to be "the norm", and, as such, gain invisibility and ease in society, with others being cast as inferior variants.[13] Privileged people see themselves reflected throughout society both in mass media and face-to-face in their encounters with teachers, workplace managers and other authorities, which researchers argue leads to a sense of entitlement and the assumption that the privileged person will succeed in life, as well as protecting the privileged person from worry that they may face discrimination from people in positions of authority.[15]

Awareness of privilege[edit]

Some academics highlight a pattern where those who benefit from a type of privilege are unwilling to acknowledge it.[2][12][16] American sociologist Michael Kimmel describes the state of having privilege as being "like running with the wind at your back", unaware of invisible sustenance, support and propulsion.[2] The argument may follow that such a denial constitutes a further injustice against those who do not benefit from the same form of privilege. One writer has referred to such denial as a form of "microaggression" or microinvalidation that negates the experiences of people who don't have privilege and minimizes the impediments they face.[17]

McIntosh wrote that most people are reluctant to acknowledge their privilege, and instead look for ways to justify or minimize the effects of privilege stating that their privilege was fully earned. They justify this by acknowledging the acts of individuals of unearned dominance, but deny that privilege is institutionalized as well as embedded throughout our society. She wrote that those who believe privilege is systemic may nonetheless deny having personally benefited from it, and may oppose efforts to dismantle it.[2] According to researchers, privileged individuals resist acknowledging their privileges because doing so would require them to acknowledge that whatever success they have achieved did not result solely through their own efforts. Instead it was partly due to a system that has developed to support them.[17] The concept of privilege calls into question the idea that society is a meritocracy, which researchers have argued is particularly unsettling for Americans for whom belief that they live in a meritocracy is a deeply held cultural value, and one that researchers commonly characterize as a myth.[13][18][19][20]

In The Gendered Society, Michael Kimmel wrote that when privileged people do not feel personally powerful, arguments that they have benefited from unearned advantages seem unpersuasive.[19][further explanation needed]


The concept of privilege has been criticized for ignoring relative differences among groups. For example, Lawrence Blum argued that in American culture there are status differences among Asian Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and Cambodians, and among African Americans, black immigrants from the Caribbean and black immigrants from Africa.[21]

Blum agreed that privilege exists and is systemic yet nonetheless criticized the label itself, saying that the word "privilege" implies luxuries rather than rights, and arguing that some benefits of privilege such as unimpeded access to education and housing would be better understood as rights.[21] "White privilege", Michael Monahan argued, would be more accurately described as the advantages gained by whites through historical disenfranchisement of non-whites rather than something that gives whites privilege above and beyond normal human status.[22]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Rohlinger, Deana A. (2010). "Privilege". In Ritzer, G.; Ryan, J.M. The Concise Encyclopedia of Sociology. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 473–474. ISBN 978-1-44-439264-7. 


  1. ^ a b Twine, France Winddance (2013). Geographies of Privilege. Routledge. pp. 8–10. ISBN 0415519616. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Kimmel, Michael S. (2009). Privilege: A Reader. Westview Press. pp. 1, 5, 13–26. ISBN 0813344263. 
  3. ^ Freeman, Hadley (4 June 2013). "Check your privilege! Whatever that means". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 October 2014. 
  4. ^ Sullivan, Shannon (2006). Revealing Whiteness: The Unconscious Habits of Racial Privilege. Indiana University Press. pp. 121–123. ISBN 0253218489. 
  5. ^ Reiland, Rabaka (2007). W.E.B. Du Bois and the Problems of the Twenty-First Century: An Essay on Africana Critical Theory. Lexington Books. p. 3. ISBN 0739116827. 
  6. ^ Appelrouth, Scott (2007). Classical and Contemporary Sociological Theory: Text and Readings. 304-305: SAGE Publications. ISBN 076192793X. 
  7. ^ Kincheloe, Joe L. (2008). Critical Pedagogy Primer. Peter Lang International Academic Publishers. pp. 60–62. ISBN 1433101823. 
  8. ^ a b O'Brien, Jodi A. (2008). Encyclopedia of Gender and Society. SAGE Publications. p. 418. ISBN 1412909163. 
  9. ^ Fortgang, Tal (2 April 2014). "Checking My Privilege: Character as the Basis of Privilege". The Princeton Tory. Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  10. ^ Rothman, Joshua (13 May 2014). "The Origins of Privilege". The New Yorker. Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  11. ^ Casella, Eleanor C. (2005). The Archaeology of Plural and Changing Identities: Beyond Identification. Springer. p. 217. 
  12. ^ a b Garnets, Linda (2002). Psychological Perspectives on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Experiences. Columbia University Press. p. 391. ISBN 0231124139. 
  13. ^ a b c Case, Kim (2013). Deconstructing Privilege: Teaching and Learning as Allies in the Classroom. Routledge. pp. 63–64. ISBN 0415641462. 
  14. ^ Sweet, Holly Barlow (2012). Gender in the Therapy Hour: Voices of Female Clinicians Working with Men (The Routledge Series on Counseling and Psychotherapy with Boys and Men). Routledge. p. 71. ISBN 0415885515. 
  15. ^ Sorrells, Kathryn (2012). Intercultural Communication: Globalization and Social Justice. SAGE Publications. p. 63. ISBN 1412927447. 
  16. ^ Carter, Robert T. (2004). Handbook of Racial-Cultural Psychology and Counseling, Training and Practice. Wiley. p. 432. ISBN 0471386294. 
  17. ^ a b Sue, Derald Wing (2010). Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation. Wiley. pp. 37–39. ISBN 047049140X. 
  18. ^ Khan, Shamus Rahman (2012). Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul's School (Princeton Studies in Cultural Sociology). Princeton University Press. pp. 107–108. ISBN 0691156239. 
  19. ^ a b Halley, Jean (2011). Seeing White: An Introduction to White Privilege and Race. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. pp. 67, 191. ISBN 1442203072. 
  20. ^ Jackson, Yolanda Kaye (2006). Encyclopedia of Multicultural Psychology. SAGE Publications. p. 471. ISBN 9781452265568. 
  21. ^ a b Blum, Lawrence (2008). "'White privilege': A mild critique" (PDF). Theory and Research in Education. SAGE Publications. 6 (6(3)): 309. doi:10.1177/1477878508095586. Retrieved 23 October 2014. 
  22. ^ Monahan, Michael J. (2014). "The concept of privilege: a critical appraisal". South African Journal of Philosophy. 3 (1): 73–83. doi:10.1080/02580136.2014.892681. eISSN 2073-4867. ISSN 0258-0136. 

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by contributors (read/edit).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.