Life-improvement advice for the privileged


I choose to focus on the difference because there are real differences. And if I deny them then we can’t solve anything. Acknowledging difference != perpetuating it.

I know that regardless of fights I’ve had or times when police treated me badly, that a person of color lives with more constant danger. It does not hurt me or diminish my struggles to acknowledge this. But it does allow me to have a more meaningful conversation with people of color about their lives and where we can find commonality.


Words to live by. Thank you!


What @joshhh is talking about here is stats, not personal experience. So while we all have different experiences and encounters with these things, the problem is real at a larger scale.

This is a privilege. Because as much as you want to ignore it, the people of color living in the USA can’t ignore it. Every time they walk into a store they have to consider that people might think they are stealing (there are stats for this); or see a police car, they have to worry because of their color.

If that’s not true for black people you know then they are in the statistical minority. Again, this isn’t about individuals. This is about recognizing problems that are at larger scales and baked right into our systems.

Edit: And with that, I’m repeating myself and taking up too much space in this thread. I’m going to keep reading but stop replying for a while to let some other voices emerge.


Personal experience is not our only truth. You’re getting the benefit of a lot of other perspectives right here and now.

But I am not disagreeing with the value of looking for our commonalities.

But I don’t think doing so negates the realities of structural prejudices in society at large. We can acknowledge those while also looking for the similarities in our experiences.


Going back to the original topic of this thread, I’d say some of this “following your dreams” dictate also relates to concepts like the self-made man and the American Dream, where visibility skews our perception of probability. Yes, many of the artists who made it big are people who took a big risk at some point and just “went for it”. So many, in fact, that it starts to look like this is the one sure-fire way to achieve success.

Unfortunately, for all we know (and from my experience watching music scenes in various countries from nearby), for every artist/band that takes the jump and succeeds, ten other take the jump with equal amounts of courage and don’t. If this a matter of talent, communication, management, intelligence or just dumb luck I don’t know, but they share one thing: you never hear much about them. They write no successful books on how they just dropped everything and pursued their passion, only to end up in the same place but poorer.

I say this not to be cynical about “pursuing one’s passions”, but to stress that it’s better not to expect that to be the magical key to success.


I would politely suggest that is a gross oversimplification. It would be far more revealing to look at percentages here given that 87% of the UK population is white.

On another note. We had Professor Sir Harry Burns present his “what is wellness” talk at work (school). He focussed on the disparities between privalledged and not. We were lucky to hear him speak for over an hour, but his tedxglasgow talk is a nice abridged look a health “privilege”.


Jumping into this just to say that although this is a great in general, and you might be able to achieve a lot through this type of sentiment, if the relative privilege between individual is ignored then eventually it will become a point of contention in my opinion.

A good real-world example of this is second-wave feminism: this movement achieved a lot for women as a whole of course, but eventually it splintered when it became apparent that the injustices that they were fighting against were predominately those of white middle-class women, and it wasn’t until the third-wave in the 90s that issues of class, race and sexuality were considered to be intersectional forces of privilege and oppression.


Yes… I like the idea of sharing similar stories to move forward @kel.

One thing to keep in mind maybe: the person you are talking to might personally know someone who was actually a slave, or a holocaust survivor etc. the effect of that experience on them and their family is something that can’t fully be understood.

Sharing a similar experience in those cases is walking an incredibly fine line between helping move forward and totally diminishing their colossally life changing experience, that has effected their entire family/culture/beliefs/race, over the course of generations, past and future.

I think that is what is triggering some of the responses here (that’s the case for me anyway). Its hard to separate the smaller scale examples from the larger scale ones, although both are important, they are very different.


I don’t know about you, but I had nothing to do with creating those systems. I’d even argue that I’ve done very little to maintain those systems (and done stuff to minimize them), but the sake of this discussion, I’ll contain my statement to the simple fact that I did not create those systems. None of us did.

Now, we (you, I, many people) may have benefited from them, but that is a fantastically different thing.

Your original statement (people in power “making things right”) lays the “blame” for the problem at the feet of other people.

This is another aspect that doesn’t sit right with me about intersectionality. To a certain extent, it seems grounded in a kind of macro-whataboutism. “What about the hypothetical individual that shares all of your characteristics but also has this additional marginalized characteristic…” Are we speaking of statistics or anecdotes? Can a given individual not share the privileges generally ascribed to that class? Can an individual benefit from privileges not generally allowed to that class? Does the lived experience of an individual matter? (more on this below)

If you were to say that “white people” were in a (statistically) privileged position, I would 100% agree. That is, without a doubt, correct. But the general does not apply to the specific. An individual (“white person”) may not be privileged in any way at all (which is what I think @Kel is getting at). Although families, on the whole, have 1.5 children, no single family has 1.5 children, that is not a unit of children. The individual is not a multitude of one million divided by one million.

And even the general (statistical) view is problematic because the things that seem obvious about intersectionality are fluid constructions. Our definitions of race, sex, gender have all changed radically, and are often viewed differently in different cultures anyways. So to speak in broad (pan-cultural) terms, does the content, and intended audience a disservice.

To use a more specific/personal example. I am ethnically hispanic, a massively uninteresting characteristic, but I grew up in an immigrant family in Miami, where hispanic people, although plentiful, were seen as brown and not viewed upon positively, by police and otherwise. (to drill into that even further, being half Cuban, I was on the bottom of several pecking orders too, where multiple partners (@Angela included!) had their families specifically tell them not to date a Cuban). In the US I was brown(ish). In the UK, hispanic isn’t a common enough ethnicity to show up on most government-related forms. I became “white - other”. Now I live in Portugal, where being hispanic is very common to the point that, although being brown(ish) I am now, functionally speaking, “white” (as in majority). This is all trivial, but in living in three countries, my cultural status, and implicit privilege has changed.

Both the general (statistical) and specific (anecdotal) versions of this conversation are important and worth having, but it is important to be clear with language when discussing this. I would argue that the language of intersectionality doesn’t suitably allow for nuance here (as seen by the cis discussion in the other thread, along with the privilege discussion here). I think we are all in near agreement about social issues, and what can/should be done about them, but the language being used is alienating and minimizes opportunities for empathy. It literally requires taking on a different world view, as a baseline, in order to have a conversation about problems and solutions. Perhaps it is possible to view the same problems, and agree on the solutions, but not share the underlying world view. Perhaps that is the middle ground.


@kel: you are not a bad person! Privilege is a position, that’s all. Every position has its blind spots. Within privilege the blind spots help privilege sustain and grow itself.

Privilege is the privilege to say “we” and mean oneself. Perhaps this is its defining characteristic?

So privilege not just “a” position, it’s the position (of discourse), including no less the discourse about privilege.

In other words, the “we” is also a (constituting) subject [essentially the protagonist, the subject of history]. Therefore, privilege is constitutively blind to privilege.

This means unfortunately, good-natured attempts to discuss privilege by the privileged are also caught up in the blindness of privilege.

For instance @kel, the hostility and lack of empathy you feel (and the lack of acknowledgement of these feelings) may well be symptomatic of an as-yet-unquestioned blind spot.

This doesn’t mean that the privileged can’t discern some of the workings of privilege.

For instance, every “we” has its others or its "they"s. Used in a sentence: “After the hurricane, ‘they’ were looting, but ‘we’ were looking for food.” This is the essential construct, by which privilege constitutes the “we” and the “they” and hence perpetuates itself.

Privilege is NOT immunity from horrible things. One can argue that the victims of a school shooting are privileged, because “we” see ourselves in these victims. “We” can empathize with the murdered ones. A school shooting is an offense against the historical subject of privilege. Each shooting thus has the potential (as yet unrealized, unfortunately) to change the conversation about gun control. Unfortunately, the vast numbers of innocent children dying from gun violence outside school settings (“1297 each year, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention”) never gets a mention, as if “they” were somehow less deserving.

Privilege does not mean being a bad person, in fact it means being a good, honest, caring person, but one who carries certain blindnesses that intensify inequality. A bad person in fact undermines privilege; he lays bare the rules of the game.

The blindness toward the “they” is sometimes acknowledged and even resolved (gradually) in the domain of privilege. Usually it’s only resolved for the privileged, in that it makes “us” feel better; it does not lead to the radical collapse of inequalities that are needed to destroy the privilege that divides the “us” from the “they”.

But there’s a worse problem: the “they” at least exists in some way (for the privileged) in the sense that “they” are constituted by privilege. [Lacan has a formalization of this idea with the “big Other”, the “collective symbolic order”] This holds out the possibility the “they” could one day enter into privilege.

However, there exists (and here is where ALL stories really need to be heard, especially @kel…) the vast expanse of the unmentioned, who are neither “we” nor “they”. Because it is the unmentioned who constitute the true (radically immanent) ground for the “we” and the “they”, NOT the constituting subject of privilege for whom privilege has become an issue.

Will it ever be possible to accept (or even listen to) the unmentioned ones, simply as given, without the givenness of a constituting subject?

In some ways – major ones – I am a subject of privilege [in terms of my whiteness, access to education, ability to support myself]

Yet I am also one of the unmentioned.

I feel the latter deeply, personally, finding myself in relation to communities, perhaps spiritual, perhaps related to emerging concepts of identity, that are not even fully formed, that are still working out whether or not they exist, that are still developing a language and a thought proper to their functioning, let alone being registered in the symbolic order of privilege. They appear and disappear, go dormant for several years, reappear in broader contexts, then emerge as themselves again – perhaps then I do as well.

To be unmentioned is not to be victimized as the “they” but to walk the threshold between existence and inexistence.

The unmentioned subject simply cannot be thought; the privileged paper over the void and its abject horrors with the name “heresy”.

Historical victims capable of entering the realm of privilege are assured that they will one day be victors, that they will perpetuate the cycles of violence and oppression upon new victims.

The murdered heretics simply went unmentioned, their thought forgotten, with no impact on the present world.



Intersectionality puts people in little boxes where they suffocate and die. It is tailor-made for divide-and-conquer strategies of corporate “diversity councils” that annihilate lived experience, that further marginalize those not fitting into one of the neat little boxes (the “unmentioned ones”), that prevent any kind of real solidarity against the system that brought forth privilege in the first place. [Sadly, “solidarity” seems to be an anachronism – may be worth exploring in another post]

The late Mark Fisher had a great (and still controversial) article about precisely this:

Can one not simply accept privilege as [historical] subject-position, and work from there? (which means realizing that one can’t fully extricate oneself from that position; i.e. to discuss privilege is the privilege of the privileged – in other words, calls for unity will necessarily be flawed on some level, but does this mean they shouldn’t be made?) This is what I tried to put forth in my long, rambling post.


Solidarity! …


Breaking my hiatus early … :slight_smile:

If you really dig into some of the contemporary literature about intersectionality it is about exactly this fluidity, and I think that’s why it is an important idea. It describes a way to understand the multi faceted and nonconformist aspects of an individual experience and the systems that surround it.

We speak in buckets and generalities because otherwise ideas would be impossible to communicate, and we take it in good faith understanding the heart of the concept being communicated, without nitpicking details in every circumstance.

And people can absolutely be privileged in some ways and not in others, and have that change based on systems and contexts. But there are some systems and contexts so large that you’d have to leave a culture to get away from them.

Yes to all of those things. And yet it doesn’t make the privilege go away and it doens’t describe the norm within which our systems work.

Here’s where I disagree. In western society this is an impossible statement. It is absolutely possible, and common, to be white and severely disadvantaged for all sorts of reasons, but that is not the same thing. The systems we live in are biased towards whiteness, so unless you can become not white then you benefit from these things. Acknowledging this does not negate or diminish disadvantage, real struggle, or prejudice regarding economics and other factors.

Continuing to benefit from them is perpetuating them. In order to change them we need to accept and take control of what they are and what they represent. Did my grandparents specifically participate in an active way? Totally not. And I’m a from a “recently” immigrated Eastern European Jewish family, so they weren’t even here. BUT, as a white person I know I benefit from it in very real ways every day.

It’s not about blame or guilt, it’s about acknowledging that it exists and that the group in power has not used that power to fix it. How powerful would it be for that group to finally say “Yes, these systems are biased against you and for me, and with that knowledge we will work to fix them for all” …

Ignoring an injustice is the same as perpetuating it. I’ve certainly done that at times in my life and I’m trying to do better all the time.

I see this language as building bridges. It is pissing off people who have never had to think about their race (white is one too), or gender (cis-male is one too), or any of those things. Now they have to think about it and it is uncomfortable and challenging.

On the other side, many people who have been on the wrong side of these systems find it gratifying and conciliatory when we, who have had the privilege, take the time and effort to acknowledge their lives with words, even imperfect ones.

This is true, if both world views point to the same underlying problems.

We also need to focus on the acute problems… does all of the US need better public education? Sure! But some communities need it more urgently, and it is the underlying problem leading to a lot of symptoms over time. So let’s start there. But first we have to acknowledge that are some needs that are immediately greater…

Let’s not get distracted trying to search for the perfect language. The flawed and evolving language that we have does alright to describe some very real problems that have been ignored for far too long.


This too, is solidarity!


I think it’s important to question pre-suppositions. This isn’t just a platitude–I’ve changed my position/outlook on a lot over the past year.
While I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind, I think maybe throwing up enough flaws/conflicting info might cause a tiny crack in an otherwise impenetrable ideology.

  • The handful of categories deemed most important in intersectionality are questionable. (Attributes such as beauty, height, and eloquence are equally as ‘privilaged’ [even systemically] as the favored cross-sections. This is to show the crack that it is limiting.)
  • The distillation of a person into not only the handful of favored cross-sections, but any number of cross-sections is flawed because, people are complex and the environment we live in is a complex system. So it’s not just about finding the right language…the language will never be right. You can’t gather enough data even to predict how any aspect of a complex system will behave over any significant amount of time.
  • Adopting this ideology seems to be a good tool for getting people more active, but there are negative effects. Some unintended…some intended (unfortunately).
  • A negative effect is the internalization of guilt. Not unlike original sin, but based on your own immutable characteristics. Is this right? You might think yes, it is. I say no, it is not right. I think this is one of the worst things you can do to a person. I think it is one of the worst things you can internalize and lash yourself for if you’ve done nothing wrong. If a person has committed no heinous action, then they should not feel guilty. These abstract notions/feelings have real physical effects.
  • And this is the mental jui-jitzu necessary for intersectionality to work: It redefines unawareness or neutrality as harm or active participation. That re-framing is not correct…I don’t have any illusions of changing minds about this because it is at the foundation of the ideology. That presupposition is where the phrase “continuing to benefit from them is perpetuating them” comes from, but I might as well argue with someone about how many angels dance on the head of a needle. There are a million issues world-wide that we can’t consciously be aware of, it is absurd to re-frame that unawareness as active participation. Think about some injustice (that we don’t even have the context for!) half way around the world…No one is going to tell me I’m perpetuating that act and the millions of others just like it. A human is not a superhuman.
  • The very real and dangerous unintended effects are lack of empathy to the point of racism or sexism (even though it seems real silly that the ‘privileged’ could ever be the victim to this). For an example of how good intentions (perhaps) could go so wrong see what happened at Evergreen State College with Brett Weinstein and Heather Heying. A yearly tradition of a voluntary day of absence where POC would leave campus to demonstrate how valuable their presence is [which was a very positive thing based on a Samual Becket play where the residents of a town do the same thing], was modified one year so that white people were encouraged to leave…based on their skin…by other people (so it wasn’t self-determined as it was in it’s initial instantiation). Brett Weinstein decided to teach classes as usual, and he was accosted, stalked, threatened, as was his wife.

Just a little, perhaps even logical reframing, had the unintended effect to be actually racist.

I don’t think I’ll continue beating this dead horse, but it is so very arrogant to call someone privilaged, who doesn’t share this ideology, even though you have the best intentions in mind. It’s like a Christian trying to get you to read the bible to save your soul, not understanding that you don’t want it pushed on you. And imagine being told you have to adopt this ideology to be part of the solution…and if you don’t, you’re part of the problem.
…No thanks.

And I have thought about race. A lot. I’m “bi-racial” and bi-lingual. Grew up in a multi-cultural city in the states (Miami) as well as in Cartagena, Colombia in South America. I was an immigrant to the US and English is my second language. I am not a cis-male, but a woman. Not that any of this should matter, but it has been brought up. I’m writing my ‘credentials’ here just to show that any resistance to this ideology shouldn’t be dismissed as white guys trying to skirt their responsibilities. There are serious criticisms that shouldn’t be dismissed because they come from the body of a person with a certain skin color or sex organ (these are the actual -isms mentioned earlier by the way)…not that I have the kind of body anyway…not that it should matter. But you know what I get told when I voice these criticisms: that I’ve internalized my oppression. …so the points never penetrate anyway because of the ideologie’s strategies for self-preservation. It is a memeoplex.


Although not sequential, I want to open with this one:

I presume in your metaphor a bridge is a bi-directional method of communication. What have you learned, or gained, or more importantly changed about your world view from speaking with people who have a different opinion from you? (I don’t mean the marginalized other, but people like me, who agree with you on problems and solutions, but not world view).

OR is the bridge a one directional mechanism? A missionary (in the religious sense) ideology?

Among other things, one of my big concerns is that your second sentence follows your first. Granted, some issues are difficult and will not be pleasant to discuss, but to take as par-for-the-course that you are minimizing empathy is something worth thinking about when trying to communicate with other people and/or changing the world.

Ok, so the poor white unemployed factory worker living in some dustbowl town in the US, where everyone is poor and largely unemployed. Where there may not even be people of any other culture around. How on earth do they benefit from any systemic privilege? Everyone there is poor and white, so there is no relative position of privilege or power. AND they constantly hear on the tv/news about white privilege, and how if they disagree they are racist/sexist/etc…

I think that (to re-use your metaphor) burned bridge is what got Trump elected.

That is one of the very real (unintended) consequences of an all-or-nothing world view. If it is impossible to give all, you instead get nothing.

You say this as if I disagree here. That is what I am saying about agreeing about problems and likely solutions. Do I need to believe that I am privileged to think that is the solution too? Is an idealogical underpinning required to try to enact change? (To reframe the question with the religious take above, is it possible to be moral without religion?)


Ok… I have a few things that I think are worth clarifying, some things to add, and then we need to take this somewhere…

While this is true, I don’t think anyone has suggested that this is the goal. This is a slippery slope argument, and one that we don’t need to use.

I do think that general awareness is a good thing. Apart from the types of home-grown issues that we started with, globalization makes us all complicit in many harmful systems. If I don’t cultivate an awareness how do I make informed choices to do the best that I can within my means?

For example, I use my relative economic power to buy clothing manufactured in ethical ways. If I ignored the systems of clothing production I couldn’t make this choice… so in that way I do think that an awareness of the complexity is important. It doens’t have to be perfect or complete, but I can try to do a little better all the time.

This is not an ideology. The notion of privilege, until recently, was an academic theory used to study sociology… I’m certainly not arguing form an ideological standpoint and I hope no one else is taking it that way.

Please take what I’m saying as argument in good faith. I didn’t specifically choose that metaphor for any deep reason, it’s just part of regular English language vernacular and flawed in many ways.

My worldview changes all the time based on interaction with people, reading, engaging with communities around the world…

I’m still processing this whole conversation, so I’ll let you know when the changes have sunk in and what they are.

They benefit from it because if they engage with those systems they are still white. The systems themselves are setup for that. Within the last couple of generations these people may have always been poor and in difficulty, but their legal personhood was not denied by the state… or their basic human and civil rights were never questioned. Wrong things were done to them by people with more power, that’s undeniable. But that’s not the same thing.

Again, privilege and advantage are not the same thing. The people you’re describing are incredibly disadvantaged and have a hard life, and are largely ignored. None of that is ok and we should absolutely be working to help them.

Probably not. But I do think it helps to recognize the under-privilege of the people suffering these acute problems for what it is, and I really think that part of addressing this is reconciliation.

This is absolutely not what these ideas are meant to do. I agree that would be more than troublesome. The whole idea of the theory of privilege is that our systems are biased, and we should recognize in which ways they are biased. That’s it.

It feels like we went off the rails somewhere and are conflating a number of issues and ideas. This is the best language I have at my disposal right now to try and communicate these ideas, but it’s far from perfect and absolutely leaves out a lot of important things. That’s why we need to keep working on it, not just throwing it away because it’s imperfect. It gives us some language for ideas that were ignored or actively pushed down for years. I think that’s a good thing, so let’s see what we can do to make it even better while at the same time addressing the issues that it brings up.

Even in the evolving theory, the dynamics of different types of privilege are very different. It is complex, and I feel like a lot of the problems around these discussions in general (in the media etc) are because some of these ideas can’t really be simplified without losing their essence. That’s a problem we need to work on as well.

The theory of privilege is not some all encompassing panacea meant to describe the human condition. It’s a specific thing attempting to describe, acknowledge, and give words to the results of centuries of systemic oppression so that we can actually see how it has effected our systems and cultures.

I hope that we can recognize that AND figure out how to help groups who are maybe not part of that specific issue, but are also facing systemic hardship right now. It’s not one or the other.


It’s really hard, but I think ultimately positive to see some of my favorite people on the internet disagreeing about the proper way to discuss and think about some of the most difficult social and political topics, that are frankly discussed in such detail far too rarely.

We may not always choose and use our language in the best and most perfect ways, but I get the impression that everyone here is trying to do the best they can to communicate clearly and to listen to each other, and that’s really all we can ask of a forum discussion (unless we are prepared to convert this energy into some form of action…)

I know I’ve had several of my own assumptions challenged by this thread, and for that I am thankful. I’m also very grateful for continued civility when discussing such difficult topics. I know how hard it can be to continue to be civil in a discussion when it may feel as though your perspective is not being clearly understood. So, thanks everyone. Keep it real.


I think a big part of the problem we’re running into is the difference between large groups vs small groups vs individuals. When we talk about privilege, we’re often talking about averages over entire societies: those averages can change completely as we deal with smaller and smaller groups, down to individuals.

One of the main reasons for this is that, the smaller the group of people we deal with, the more other groups they belong to. If we’re talking about poor white unemployed factory workers, we’re now talking about four different groups, and whiteness is perhaps the least important one if we’re discussing the relative privilege these people have vs society in general. This doesn’t invalidate the concept of white privilege at all, it just means that it’s effects over the whole of society don’t apply in equal measure to all its individuals.


Bookmarking for later because it’s after 1 a.m. on a worknight and I gotta get some shut-eye. A quick skim through here makes me look forward to coffee and the next time I have more time to go thru this thread!