So in unpacking some of the thoughts here, along with some of my experiences, I’m seeing this intersection of two schools of thought where there seems to be disagreement. On one side, privilege is seen almost as a debt, on the other, its seen as something you should be grateful for.
I remember growing up and in school we had hall passes. We were constantly reminded that the use of a hall pass was a privilege - a right, or advantage that we were given - that could be just as easily taken away. We tried our best to retain this privilege and that definition became ingrained. We were grateful of our privileges and protected them. For instance, achieving good grades in high school so my parents extended me the privilege of a later curfew.
On the other hand, I was reminded by my parents, in church, and by my teachers how advantaged we were to be so smart and in school and that there were many young children without homes to go to or food to eat. These people were disadvantaged and we needed to be taught empathy so we could then learn how to care for them. My advantages, and by contrast, their disadvantages, were conditions that they were born into and could not readily be removed or taken away (the advantage of being white, for instance). These folks in some cases were lacking basic human rights - privilege seemed to be on another level of the hierarchy.
I don’t think anyone is denying an inherent advantage or disadvantage as it has to do with race, gender, socioeconomic status, or any other descriptor that we like to use on fellow humans. They exist and their relationships complex. But where I see the struggle, and where I’ve struggled myself, is the concept of a privilege as we seem to define it today. I’m accepting it for the sake of conversation and furthering progress but I can see where the vernacular leaves some cold. Anyway, carry on. Great conversation.
One thing to consider is that the narrative of race or gender based privilege is a US phenomenon. So then, when considering the hundreds of years of institutionalized racism that is codified in the laws of this country, the treatment of minorities by police and the justice system, and the very existence of the prison industrial complex and how it disproportionately affects people of color, it’s not a generalization. White people will never have to deal with any of those factors. That’s not a value judgement, or something to feel guilty about, but something to consciously consider in your day to day life and interactions. I can gather some links about all of these topics if you’d like to learn/read more about them.
I agree, and that’s not the message of privilege theory. None of us is any better or worse than one another, but our shitty government and shitty people in our country do not treat us such. In this circumstance, maybe the word privilege has unintended connotations simply due to what it means in the english language. Unfortunately, a better term hasn’t been created yet, and in circles like these terms chosen for concepts are often more about their mouthfeel and ease of use than strict accuracy. I wish I knew of a way to change it.
Interesting discussion, I’d like to add a few things:
Well, it has a pretty specific usage in sociology, but as often happens when these kinds of concepts become mainstream, it’s picked up a lot of baggage.
The idea is, all other things being equal, a white person has more privilege than someone of other races, and a man has more privilege than a woman. But when it comes to individuals all other things are not equal, and a given white male can definitely have less privilege overall than a non white, non male, especially due to differences in social class. I don’t think anybody is suggesting otherwise.
I think one of the important aspects of the concept of privilege (vs inequality and injustice in general) is awareness: that by being unaware of or denying an advantage, a greater injustice is created. This can definitely be an uncomfortable subject, and inevitably leads to backlash, but it’s an important concept and “privilege” is the best word we have for it at the moment.
Only chiming in to say that @mateo and @thetaflux have responded to @Kel with much of the same thoughts that I would have, and in a very articulate way.
One thing to add that is often a sticking point in these conversations, and @mateo alluded it, is the drastic difference between systemic inequality that leads to privilege (in the sense that we’re using it), and personal experience and context.
As @thetaflux said, it’s things like the prison system and legal rights that are at the heart of this. But being aware of your own position within these is important, because the experiences with theses systems shape individual behaviour and cultures.
This is it exactly. It’s not about guilt, or a debt, or who is better. It’s about becoming aware of the imbalances in our systems and culture that have gone unspoken for generations. Once we have awareness we might actually be able to make change… but nothing will change when the majority deny there is anything to change in the first place.
It’s not about being “better”, but instead recognizing in which aspects of life you have a leg up, and where other people might not or are even actively pushed down.
It’s also quite relevant in North America, Europe, the UK, and beyond (i.e. in a lot of South America there are huge racism problems). The details are different, but those countries have problems and problematic histories about gender, race, sexuality, etc just like the US does. Not to mention prior British colonies in India and Africa… full of this stuff.
It seems to be a word that gives people the wrong idea. My understanding is that it’s when people are unaware of how society/situations benefit them.
The best way I heard it explained is a guest speaker (I can’t remember where I saw this) was speaking to a roomful of people. The guest speaker asked if the men if they ever checked the back seat of their car before getting into it, if they made sure to park their car under a lamppost in a parking light if it was after dark, if they carried their keys in their hands like weapons when returning to their car after shopping. All the men laughed and said “no.” Then the guest speaker asked the women in the room to raise their hand if they had been told to do so these things, and almost all the women raised their hand.
So if a man in the room had NO IDEA that the women lived in a world where a trip to the grocery store after dark was also a place where they might get violently attacked, then that man was benefiting from privilege.
(Most people seem who get the definition wrong seem to see “privilege” as synonymous with “free prizes” for some reason, which is kind of hilarious)
still, i think those notions of privilege and intersectionality, as useful as they may be to help describe social inequities; they do not seem to be operating as a political tool (apart to fragment the left a little further but that is another question), at least in my country.
I am sorry to say, but the word “privilege” works as a label excluding without nuances, even seeming to deny a right to having a political voice (which is exactly what most discriminating words aiming at minorities do). Whatever the meaning it has now, the first time i encountered that word “privilege” was in primary school to describe how nobility passed power like a capital. Shortly after that we went to learn that the head of those privileged nobles had been cut by the people. Just a reminder of how loaded the word is outside the US. (i’m speaking from France but it is probably true for all places that lived a feudal system in their history).
Anyways, onto my second point, it feels like the use of this notion of privilege is heavily relying on christian guilt and individualism. Coming from a mostly irreligious society with a strong history of marxist philosophers and social struggles applying the principle of convergence des luttes, you can tell that i cringe a little when i see that the political analysis grid of young people is their self, and not the structures that encompass them.
Thirdly (but this veers slighlty off topic), i feel like there is somehow a fallacy thinking that the “creative class”, with its high cultural capital, is more than a new proletariat. At least in france, those are overwhelmingly in the low 30% income, when they are not interns.
To sum it up, i think there are indeed two schools of thought, one which sees political action primarily as an individual take, and the other that sees it as a collective effort that has to transcend specifics. I work a community radio and my observation is that individuality has won, and it’s not -at all- an efficient way towards change.
As a conclusion / opening, i would recommend reading about Deleuze and devenir minoritaire which is (amongst other things) about multiplicities as a third way between “individuals” and (an un-nuanced collective) “people”.
See, to me the notion of privilege is all about structures and our blindness to them. It’s only individual in as far as individuals are being asked to be aware of how structures are benefiting them and not others. In fact, it can be seen as an attack on individualism, as it challenges the notion that society is a meritocracy.
Yes, this is clearly an issue. But is the real issue the language being used? Or is it the underlying notions that make people uncomfortable?
I think taking ownership at the level of the individual is the only viable option because that’s where one has agency. One does not have agency to move as a group–or even to speak for a group as if they could know “the group’s mind” at every moment (though some pretend to, but we are not the Borg in a hive mind.). So you know you can move yourself…and if you can compel others to do so too then there is definite utility in that. But you move as a group of individuals united for something. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact I’d say that’s a very powerful notion. Everyone then moves consciously and will-fully and, not just because of an idea of inescapable membership or subliminal compulsion.
I think what might be of issue here is the idea that then the onus falls on the individual (as in, they get blamed) even in instances where environmental/societal factors have had a great deal to do with the whole of the situation. This is only an error if we believe individual agency is the whole of the equation (unfortunately there are many tales told full of survivorship bias and it’s a myth Americans love.), but it is an error. Believing wholly in either is an error.
So it’s a question of directionality:
A. Directed out to the world: Individual agency is literally you moving yourself consciously. That’s very useful and ACTUALLY the only way to do it–like, physiologically.
B. Directed at you from the world: You do not control much of your environment.
We can’t do away with A because B is true. And B does not negate the validity of A.
We can also discuss whether a person should only take up causes that serve their own self-interests
whether it’s a good idea to rally for something whose consequences one is insulated from–to work on someone else’s behalf, to have a great effect on someone else’s lives.
There are pros and cons to each (even though it seems most only see the first as being negative/selfish and the second as only being positive/helpful–for instance lack of feedback can be terribly harmful: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”.)
(I hope I understood what you were trying to say here correctly. I thought what you said was spot on specifically:
Privilege is a relative concept:
Do you live in the 1st world?
Do you have white or lighter-colored skin?
Are you male? (sorry for the harsh truth, but MOST of the 7+ billion people in this world will consider anyone who can answer ‘yes’ to any of those questions as ‘privileged’)
Privilege has nothing to do with making dreams come true. Passion does.
When you feel a passion strongly enough, there is no choice, it acts like a compulsion to draw you into your dream until it manifests into reality. If you haven’t manifested your dreams/goals/whatever yet, it’s because you made a choice to stifle that passion(or you haven’t felt real enough passion yet for the goal you dream of in the first place).
Everything begins and ends with a feeling. You feel it all the way through until the passion of that feeling becomes your reality.
If we identify with the frustration of being excluded from some romanticized notion of ‘privilege’ too much, that’s the ONLY reality that will keep manifesting for us, over and over, stronger and stronger.
You want life-improvement? Imagine your life is already ideally and exactly what you want it to be, simply because it’s all within you already. Now all you have to do is figure out how to manifest it all in your external reality(think of a seed which would someday sprout into a plant which yields a flower: it has all the genetic material in it which defines what it can be, all it has to do is blossom into its full self). Dreams are considered ‘dreams’ because they haven’t manifested in reality, but there is one real thing about them: the way they make you feel. And you can make them manifest by identifying with those feelings strongly enough to act on them.
tl;dr - i wrote the above mainly for myself: to remind myself of something important. but for this thread, i simply have the following to contribute:
Big ups @natet for saying it all so much better than i could have(i had to try anyways because i felt a passion ) … he posted the best thing i’ve read in a long time
Thank you, Natet
I like this as an ideal that the whole world could aspire to, where everyone truly is treated fairly and money doesn’t matter, but until then: if you have more money/less likelihood of being arrested or killed due to your skin color/a family who can help you out when your dream doesn’t work out/a house in which to live in the first place/etc., you indisputably have an easier time “making dreams come true”. I don’t personally see how acknowledging and addressing this makes privilege stronger somehow; you can’t fight something if you pretend it doesn’t matter or doesn’t exist.
using the seed metaphor: if I plant a seed in the desert, it is much harder for it to grow than if I plant it in a fertile nursery. it might still survive in the desert, but claiming that it just needs to try really hard and be passionate to achieve becoming a flower is denying all sorts of truths about the reality it was forced into.
I live in the USA, I am white, I am male. I am not rich, but I am still among the most privileged people to have ever lived on this planet. I don’t think there is a reason to dispute that. I still have all sorts of my own challenges, but that doesn’t diminish the aforementioned advantages.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this sentence, this entire thread, the relative value of “passion” and “dreams”, and snake oil.
There are no quick solutions, there is no instruction booklet, there are no short-cuts worth taking. Believing those things exist is one of the steps on the path to wisdom, as is the inevitable disappointment when they fail. Privilege - an accident of birth that starts an individual higher up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs than others - has nothing to do with enlightenment, and in many cases is a barrier to it, because the privileged person may feel they are entitled to answers, or used to getting what they want easily and quickly.
The 10th century Chinese zen master Kakuan drew pictures of 10 bulls. They are worth studying. As the comment on the top of the page mentioned, the 10 wood cuts “reflect on the stages of personal growth and discovery that we experience as we impart upon the journey of self-awareness.”
The lessons life wants to teach us speak with a soft voice, and we can’t hear them if we’re too busy dreaming or too enflamed with passion to notice.
There’s a lot more that could be said but I’ve said enough.
No one is pretending anything doesn’t exist anywhere in this thread(i think you’re writing certain things in haste, hoping to spin people’s words around into meanings that were never written, because your ego is taking control (if you need me to recant for implying that all white-males are privileged anyways, then i can, but you just need to address that to me more directly first, otherwise, i won’t really know that you’re hurting over that in the first place…. are you? is that the real issue here?)).
This last statement is the best example of the dishonest technique of ‘spin’ you are employing: nowhere in what i wrote did i say “try really hard”, but furthermore and most importantly, i actually wrote quite the opposite and it is still posted there as evidence, perfectly spelled out for you: “there is no choice, it acts like a compulsion to draw you into your dream until it manifests into reality”
I did also mention that i wrote all that mainly for myself, and just to explain: this is the ‘law of attraction/manifestation’ i was trying to write out to myself as it recently manifested in my life a couple years ago directly after a harsh divorce, while i had no job, no family(my parents and i never got along and i have no contact with any other family as they always lived in India, and therefore i never had much connection with them), and kept on with only a glimmer of hope, albeit couched in constant suicidal thoughts(i simply used this thread as inspiration for the reminder). The only thing that changed was my attitude, and eventually everything else did(i changed my attitude to keep hope and stay strong with my ‘passion for survival’ against all odds and notions of ‘what was supposed to be’; people who complain about privilege let alone try to judge others for having it are basically trapped in this notion of ‘what was supposed to be’ and after reading this thread, i can’t help but realize they probably asked for it: people don’t deserve to move forward until they learn the lesson properly and thoroughly, the universe held me to this standard and now that i’ve come out the other end successfully, i definitely hold everyone else to it as well).
If you don’t believe in it, no worries… there are enough examples in the world of how underprivileged people overcame the difficult context within which they grew up and lived, and therefore, privilege obviously had nothing to do with that(and for all the others whom you might see as having had a boost by ‘privilege’, neither you NOR I, can judge those people as being ‘privileged’ or not because we never got to know their full story).
Last but not least, you wrote:
Global warming will soon turn this entire earth into a desert, so just be patient, and you’ll soon see examples everywhere of how ‘flowers’ will prove that their passion for survival can help them thrive anywhere on equal terms no matter what relative notions other people have of their level of privilege, I’m not trying to ‘manifest/attract’ a pretty picture for you, here, either
I’m willing to undergo this harsh struggle and life-lesson right there alongside you, and we can both learn and grow positively from it by the end.
But I do appreciate that you made a conscientious effort to think about what i wrote, so i thank you for all the other thoughtful parts of your response.
Next we have bobbcorr:
Indeed, there is the notion that our souls chose every single life lesson we encounter well before we were born. Those who consider themselves ‘underprivileged’ might be so enflamed with the passionate frustration and anger over that, that they will keep encountering that situation until they’ve learned what they’re supposed to learn from it. I certainly did until I was able to turn it around by my attitude alone.
I don’t personally encounter people who actually do this - I encounter people of extremely privileged and underprivileged groups and everything in between, who simply think people in positions of privilege should identify and consider how their privilege affects and enhances their life, rather than pushing the delusional notion that people in imperfect life situations “asked for it” or somehow made bad decisions leading them to their unfortunate circumstances.
the idea isn’t that the underprivileged people of the world cannot overcome and succeed - they can, they just have a lot more to overcome than those with more privileged positions to start with.
I think people unconditionally deserve happiness and “to move forward”. who is to judge what is “properly and thoroughly” anyway?
not really sure where this comes from - I explicitly stated that I think white men are immensely privileged.
what I am suggesting is that there isn’t much room for “compulsion to draw you into your dream” when you can’t afford food.
on a more personal and mundane level, I would have had a tougher time overcoming my own phases of depression if I had also been unable to feed myself while coping, if I didn’t have friends, if I were homeless, if I were killed by police, etc.
all that said, I’m sincerely glad you overcame your personal challenges and are in a better place now.
edit: I think part of this disagreement might be in semantics. in my understanding, someone can certainly earn privilege (money, for example). acknowledging privilege doesn’t necessarily mean that said privilege wasn’t due to personal achievement, good decision making, a positive attitude, or some such thing.
I think a thing that is causing friction in this thread is the oscillation between the general/impersonal and the specific/personal. Different scales and different points in time can make things incomparable. And yet we try.
Edit: totally bummed that this thread seems to be pushing @RABID away from lines.
There’s a well studied cognitive bias called the Just World fallacy, where people believe (however subconsciously) in some cosmic force that ensures moral balance, such that good acts are rewarded and evil acts are punished. It’s a way of dealing with uncertainty in the world, that leads to people thinking that others who are going through hardship have deserved it somehow.
This make acknowledging privilege difficult, because it confronts us with how unjust the world is.
This totally comes from a good place–it’s clear to see this is a thought that comes out of a compassionate desire and love for mankind. Nothing wrong with that at all and I think it is a noble endeavour to try to be more empathetic.
The flaw is–or rather, the thing to keep in mind is–mistakes are made with regard to who is put in the group that’s seen as privileged…and then they are excluded from your empathy. Or rather, then you allow yourself to stop feeling empathy for them (which is the opposite of your stated aim). What I’m seeing as the prevailing idea in this thread is that: it seems very obvious [today] that everyone with the same skin color be put into group A or group B–the obviously privileged/the under-privilaged.
To see the flaw you can ask how new is how we’re thinking about race (who belongs in what race is not at all obvious, and you need only look back at the turn of the 20th century to see that Italians were considered ‘negros’ (see Abernathy’s Index of Nigrescence.). The Appalachians were indentured servants, became poor farmers, were tricked out of their land by industrialists, and today many are just hillbillies. Their lives have been a tragic hell…for generations (and we don’t need to say black people had it worse. The point is to say it was not the easy life of the wealthy masters. In fact, that’s who is privileged and continues to be privileged: the wealthy masters…and it’s very convenient that the conversation turn to race rather than focus on them specifically…as individuals. This is as deliberate today as it was 200 years ago so slaves and indentured servants wouldn’t join up.). It is not compassionate or even correct to file these generational poor under the privilaged* category.
*UNLESS we use the word privilage in a new way. …Which actually is the case when discussing this topic. Where there is friction on this thread is, I think, using the same word to mean different things.