Life-improvement advice for the privileged


I agree with what you saying, but I don’t see how this negates the other part of the topic/conversation.

Yes, we absolutely need to address the economic systems and power of the wealthy that creates huge problems around the world.

But can we also not recognize and try to address the day-to-day inequality in our systems?

For instance, I don’t have to worry about being shot during a routine traffic stop. A black person does. That is the privilege of being white, and one that I recognize I have and others don’t.

I’m also Jewish. But being white means I can blend in when needed, which is something a number of my middle eastern Jewish friends can’t do.

Being Jewish I’ve experienced some serious antisemetism, including places I was not welcomed. I personally know the frustration of being treated as the “other” to the assumed norm in ways both big and small (i.e. school closing for Christmas, but not for Rosh Hashannah, so I was always behind during September).

Luckily in my lifetime I’ve never been scared for my life, but my parents were in many situations here in Canada.

White privilege is that a school shooter gets arrested peacefully, while a black man gets killed for selling illegal cigarettes. That is privilege.

None of these things deny the big economic and power issues that we face, and we absolutely need to work together to try to fix them. I feel differently about it being about the individuals, I still see it as a systemic problem.

At the same time we need to recognize the dynamics in our culture, our social and legal systems, and our attitudes and work to improve those as well. Econimics, race, gender, language, geography, and more all impact this to greater and lesser degrees. No one is claiming this is simple or about bucketing people into clear and easy groups.

I don’t see these things as mutually exclusive.


No, right–It doesn’t negate trying to seek to make better the situation of someone or group that you think is being discriminated against.

It’s just to always keep in mind that one issue:

-The proper diagnosis matters so that there is no collateral damage…or that collateral damage is minimized (So if you can relate the phrase “you need to crack a few eggs to make an omelette” to the lens through which you see this problem and it’s solutions, may I suggest thinking that over, because the consequences are not minor.). That way you don’t take a sledge hammer to a problem that just needs a regular hammer. I know I’m mixing my metaphors but I want to drive the point.

I think it would be helpful to talk about the twin usages of this word. This is where trouble lies:

Usage 1: Things or situations enjoyed. As in either already enjoyed…or that the path from desire to enjoyment is so frictionless that it could be said to be of no trouble at all. The world is your oyster.

Usage 2: When you say “privilege as systemic” another way to say that is that the conditions allow for the potential for def 1. This concept of a potential cash in EVEN IF the probability of such a cash is low, is key to untangling this.

The point of contention is that some people see this potential as belonging to the first group/first definition already.
Others reject this. To them it is a leap of imagination so great (because of what they’ve gone through in their lives–their lived experience) that you might as well be trying to convince them that up is down and black is white.

And as right as you think you are (so you need to convince people because ‘they just don’t get it’) it is not obvious which is the correct way to think about it. It requires an ideological transformation that begins with nothing less than a leap of faith if one’s life has never ever felt “privilaged” in the slightest (and they would be thinking of it in terms of usage 1…necessarily to begin with).

So if the aim is to get as many people as possible to take an active interest in correcting/eliminating the abusive parts of the system (judicial/law enforcement/education), it is not a good strategy to need them to adopt a premise that presents as literally absurd.

Another thread to help untangle:

  • Group A abuses group B
  • Group A abuses group C “less” (or in different ways)

Is it correct to say that the designation of C as “privileged” is only a RELATIVE position? Are they only privilaged because group B has it worse? As a thought experiment what if there were no group B–would C no longer be “privilaged”?
This does not seem like the way it should be. This is not how the word should be used…and if it’s continued to be used this way it is only divisive.


To kind of follow on from that last one, and to risk making a ““vulgar” class reductionist” argument, I think there’s a critical view of intersectionality/identity politics that is grounded in an economic view of the oppression.

Or more specifically, although “wealth privilege” is an idea, it is not one of the central divisions in the taxonomy of intersectionality, which focuses primarily on immutable physical characteristics (sex/race) to delineate lines of power/oppression.

I personally don’t think this is accidental. It is easier to rule the divided.

So in your twin definitions of privilege, “wealth privilege” is squarely the first one, and not the ‘kinetic’ version we colloquially are using for other intersectional privileges, and the confusing of those terms serves to benefit those enjoying that “privilege”.


Totes. I too am a vulgar class reductionist :slight_smile:


I’ve always seen “class” (aka economics) and education as a core part of intersectionality… that’s how I learned about it.


That’s good.

In a sense I view things that typically fall under “white privilege” (including your examples above) as class and/or majority privilege, and generally being very specifically limited to the US.


That plays factor, but is also deeper and applies in many places other than the US. It’s essentially an aftershock of European colonialism and war, and you can see it almost everywhere they landed. You can also see the effect of white privilege beyond class when you look at things like wealthy black men that get stopped by police “randomly”, or how hard many women have to fight to be taken seriously in professional situations regardless of economics and education. Or the effects of legally enforced multi-generational poverty (i.e. Jim Crow laws in the US)

It’s also important to remember where the current class inequality often started, which was racial subjugation. Europeans seeing African’s as less-than-human…

So, all that is to say that it’s so intertwined I don’t think you can separate the issues in any useful way.


I think this belongs in this thread because it is good advice for how to engage with people. They seem like good strategies. The first hadn’t really occurred to me before–especially when certain topics seem to be life and death–but I can definitely see the value in it.

This is from Musa al-Gharbi (a sociologist at Colombia)


I want to point out that the source for that statistic in the Wikipedia page you quoted is a (paywall protected) article in The Times. Not exactly what I would consider a neutral source.

Your other link, about feminism making men scared to ask women out, is from the Torygraph and is written by a man. Is he an authority who’s able to speak on how women feel they should be perceived or treated in office environments?


Without getting to far into the weeds, I’d like to point out that this falls victim to a common fallacy. To make these number comparable in terms of risk we need to look at percentages of population. According to the UK census the UK population is 87% white. That means, based on the numbers you quoted, that the likelihood of being the victim of racial violence is exponentially higher for non-white residents.

As per my previous post, it is impossible to separate race, class, education, and access to opportunities, at least in western societies.

I agree that this is a powerful way to try to make change. And I think that one way to be a better individual is to become more aware of other people’s experiences and situations and be compassionate towards them, even when it makes me uncomfortable or challenges my ideas of society.

I absolutely agree about the problems of individualistic cultures, and we’re seeing them fully in the US right now.

For things like this it’s really important to be extra critical. There is a long history of thinking along these lines that just perpetuates “boys will be boys” … or that “now we’re scared to talk to women”… but very little of it is backed up with real evidence and it is almost always used as a way to reject the advancement of women. At best it is sensationalized nonsense, at worst it is causing direct harm.


I totally agree that these are the things that we need to address in order to make progress.

I also know that for people in abused/oppressed/marginalized groups the recognition is important. For the “power” to say “Yes, you are right. We have treated you badly and admit our wrongs, and apologize. These are the things we will do to make it right” – This is a crucial step in reconciliation. Really tackling those other problems will only happen if we can acknowledge the underlying structures, accept our place in them, and work to change it with that knowledge.

If we don’t do that then we end up fixing the wrong problems for the wrong people.


Having lived in a few parts of the US, but mostly in Miami, and then also having lived for a decade in Manchester England, from my perspective the black/white racial tensions in each seem very different. What’s going on in Chicago is not what’s going on in Manchester, or York, or Leeds (can’t speak for London, as that might be it’s own island since it’s so big and unique) (and there is definitely tension between Asians/native English but it’s not baked into law enforcement like it is in the US. The tensions seem to just be at “street level”…with some politicians–having come from those “streets” sharing in that view.) England seems to be much more civil and progressive. Less medieval.
I was not afraid of the police in England.
I was very afraid of the police in Miami.
(I don’t know how it feels in South Africa, but I image things are very different there as well. That is to say, geography matters a great deal even though we talk about this stuff as if it matters not at all.)

Without pulling up any statistics, I’ll just assume the premise that black men get stopped by police more often than white men, proportionally. I actually think this true–I think it’s safe to say that in the US black people are targeted.
But is that ‘white privilage’ or is that discrimination against black people? And there is a difference. It has to do with the framing, as I set up in an earlier post:

It’d be interesting to see if black policemen stop black people at similar rates to white policemen.

As far as Jim Crow. There’s no 2 ways about it. Of course it was racial. My point is just to say that the racial divide that brought us Jim Crow is an off-shoot of the manufactured racial tensions that began the moment the lord of the manor caught wind of that the help was plotting to murder him. But no doubt–and from the top down–Jim Crow was a terrible thing done TO black people (and society at large–there were many non-racist whites happily co-mingling with black people in taverns and other places of leisure. Many white owned businesses were opposed to Jim Crow.).

I’ll work with the premise that women have to work harder in professional situations to be taken more seriously (though I don’t think that’s necessarily true, and not true in all professions…so this one I can’t take as a “truth” at face value, but let’s start with this premise):

If this is true, it’s still only true WITHIN a particular class.
Perhaps a working class woman won’t be taken as seriously as a working class man (depends on the profession actually, but let’s go with it…)
But a perceived upper-middle class woman will still be taken more seriously in professional situation than a perceived working-class or poor man.
So the architecture is still class–espeically if we’re talking about professional respect–though sexism will exist at the various class levels.


This is privilege AND discrimination. They are most certainly not mutually exclusive. My partner is of Indian descent and was born in Durban. I have had discussions with her family, who still live in Johannesburg, that yes, apartheid was awful for them, but it was worse for black people. During that time, they were treated terribly, but there was clearly a sliding scale and they were never treated as badly as the black population, and yes, it’s all relative.

Everything in relation to privilege is relative: that’s literally what intersectionality is all about.

I don’t want to come across as accusatory, but I don’t feel like you are looking for common ground. Bringing up sensationalist articles from the right-leaning press, which benefits from the systems which are in place and has a vested interest in pandering to the outdated views of its readers, does not in any way move the conversation forward. Coming together and finding common ground doesn’t mean thinking that every viewpoint is valid. That’s (part of) how we ended up in this mess with Brexit, and how the world has ended up wringing its hands on action against climate change.


It’s two sides of the same coin. What I’m suggesting is that as a white person I should acknowledge that I have this privilege of safety that other people don’t, and try to understand how that changes our world views and culture. Then figure out what I want to do about it.

I don’t have stats handy, but I remember learning that black cops still stop black people more than white people. It’s the institution of policing that is racist and corrupted… (again back to the individual vs system stuff).

(There is a lot of data pointing to this being true, and a lot of first hand experience)

This is a bit of a straw-man argument. What we’re talking about with the notion of privilege is comparable situations.

Class and economic divides are very real and are a big part of it, but they do not negate or belie the realities of sexism and racism, among other things. Also because race, gender, religion, geography, etc are all historically contributing factors to people’s economic standing.

Absolutely true. This goes to the point that racism and discrimination are two very different things. Racism is systemic and cultural. Discrimination can be caused by racism, but it can also be individual or community based in ways that aren’t systemic. You can have non-racist people inside a racist system, but they still benefit from the racism in ways both obvious and hidden.


Who is the “they” here?

If it is the specific people who put those systems in place, then fuck yeah. But I imagine in most of those cases those people are dead or out of power now (if we’re rewinding the clock to Jim Crow era stuff), so are we then talking about people who look like those people? Or people who have indirectly benefited from that? What would “reconciliation” from one of those parties look like? What would they be “recognizing”?

Because a group that is being marginalized represents a specific (intersectional) subset of identities, does it necessarily follow that it is also a subset of identities that is doing the oppression, or can “oppression” span a granular identity?


Yes. It is the people representing and maintaining the systems that perpetuate the problems. It is the people who continue to benefit from them. It is all of us.

We’re going through a process of reconciliation with indigenous Canadians right now that is long overdue. It is an investigation, an acknowledgement by the state the wrong has been done, and a plan to make amends and right the system over time. The plan is made in collaboration with all peoples involved.

It’s not perfect, but it has changed the cultural attitudes and begun to change real policy for the better. There is still a long way to go and there have been lots of missteps, but it is a better trajectory than before where this was ignored or outright denied.

In the USA, for example, we could start by recognizing that all the things that people of color have claimed about lack of support, poor schools, prejudice in the policing and judicial systems, etc are actually true. That would be a good start. Once the power structure recognizes these are real things we can begin to try to solve them.

Edit to add: On an individual level I think this is where the idea of privilege is powerful. I can say “i acknowledge the benefits given to me by our systems because of my colour.” This is a statement of beginning individual reconciliation. Now I can have a more productive conversation with people of color about how I can actually help, and I can better understand their life experience that is different than mine in often contradictory and hard to see ways.


I’ve been in dangerous situations and have certainly been beat up a fair number of times, including harassed by cops. That is still different.


how do you decouple Jim Crow from Tamir Rice? the institutions that allowed Jim Crow to persist currently allow/promote cops killing unarmed black people.

Ta’Nehisi Coates can more appropriately and eloquently outline some thoughts on reconciliation and reparations, as an example.

Especially presuming you live in the USA (though true in many/most place), if you don’t recognize that you are statistically safer than a black or brown person of otherwise identical circumstances, you are simply denying reality. The article you linked from the UK would seem to reinforce this (blacks disproportionately suffering race-motivated attacks).


Apologies, I was not intending to come across like that, I just didn’t feel like your description of your responses really matched my interpretation of them, but that’s the risk with communicating in text, as always. As @emenel said, it’s important to be ultra critical and not let such inflammatory articles impact one’s viewpoint in these complex situations.

Coming from Australia, this was the exact reason that a former Prime Minister refused to apologise for the forced removal of children from Indigenous communities for many many many years. Reconciliation, in this case, and in many cases, is acknowledgment that people and their ancestors were harmed and treated horribly, because much of the time, white people, or people in positions of power, refuse to even do that. Obviously, the intricacies of the situation in Australia are very different, however, I think a lot of it is transferable to discussions around colonialism and former colonies today. The UK still has discussions and TV shows talking about whether or not the British Empire was a good thing, and the lack of knowledge around what was done during those times blows my mind.


Focusing on our similarities and not acknowledging differences minimises the experiences of those who are oppressed in ways that you and I, as white people, will never experience.