Life-improvement advice for the privileged


I don’t think it’s all in. I do think that it adds additional depth to how we understand how our societies treat people.

I may have meant “and”, in that it does both at once - sometimes in directly related ways, but sometimes not.

I meant that I don’t see it as zero-sum because it doesn’t have to be like this, there’s nothing inherent that makes our societies biased in these ways. It is in existing power structures and history that this happens. People work to maintain these powers in explicit and implicit ways. For me, understanding concepts like privilege has helped me lessen my implicit support for these structures by making me more aware of them and how they effect us.

These terms are not helpful when they are used to label people. They are helpful when we can use them to understand the inner workings and biases of how we live, relate to each other, understand experiences different from our own, and see how systems are biased.

There are people so invested the status quo that changing their mind will take so long, and so much work, that we just need to change regardless. Trump/Brexit et al are a defensive reaction to changes in the world that are upsetting status quo power structures. These changes are going to happen one way or another, some of them are positive and some of them are not, or have the potential to be harmful to lots of people.

I also feel that the concern for alienating or offending people is generally biased. A lot of the “new” terms are meant to help include and understand experiences and stories from groups of people who have been excluded from our cultural discourse for generations. Adding these ideas to our world view is not about excluding a different group, but instead about broadening our understanding. I guess I feel that if the idea of systemic privilege is alienating to someone, then they need to think hard about the society that we live in and how people are treated in it.

I also think that the media is done a lot of disservice to these ideas in the way they talk about them… and that some media outlets (i.e. Fox) have intentionally misrepresented the ideas and the people who espouse them for their own gain.

So yes, it can be alienating if you are the one being challenged to see the world in a new way. And the concepts can be complex. But I think it’s part of a larger change that needs to happen, even though it’ll be rocky and difficult and probably cause friction (or worse). Big changes to world view have never happened easily.


That’s the thing. Equating people with privilege because of phenotypical characteristics (which are fluidly and culturally relativistic) diminishes your (again, not “you”) ability for empathy. People who have a problem with the idea of privilege (or specifically being told they themselves are privileged), in your view need to “have a hard think about society”.

There are other options here.

We can just focus on helping those that are oppressed. Our personal liability, privilege, standing, notwithstanding. The focus should be on help, not on categorizing.

(the bulk of the rest of the post I agree on, so I only picked out a bit that I didn’t, I’m not trying to just single out a thing or catch you out)


I guess I ultimately feel that our ability to help people and change the system for the better will be limited if we don’t also strive to understand the dynamics of the systems. The concept of privilege helps me understand those dynamics and better act to improve things.

It’s far from a perfect theory, and I’m sure we’ll continue to evolve and change our understanding. I hope that we figure out a way to include all understandings of experience and history in our collective view and systems. In my view these concepts aim to include experiences and stories that have been excluded, not to exclude existing ones. But the inclusion of new perspectives will change our current ones, and that can be hard.



I get what you are saying, why make it a negative? – and I like how clear it is to @emenel who basically doubles down on the negative saying that if someones gets offended then something is wrong with them, :slight_smile:

I think that if the people in this forum were the only ones who needed convincing, then a ‘you catch more flies with honey’ approach would probably be a much better bet.

However, when you have so many people working against others to keep things the way they are, not move forward and actively oppress others taking full advantage of anything they can…

Then I think the pendulum must swing past it’s target so that it can eventually settle in the middle – where it should have been all along.

I don’t have much of an education or the knowledge to back this up with facts, but if we look back historically, (woman’s rights, black history) doesn’t it usually take a few punches from the down side to knock things closer to ‘fair’?

Sorry to bud right in! I’ve just been listening for a while and blurted out something… haha


I definitely didn’t intend to say that something is wrong with people who disagree. Lol.

I do think that the things that these ideas try to explain are real, and that sugar coating it to prevent people being uncomfortable or offended isn’t going to help things move forward.

Systemic and cultural change has never happened by trying to appease the resistors. Embedded power and it’s influence do not shift easily.


Personally, I’ll say that I’m of two minds about the utility of the framing of privilege.

I like to think of things in terms of their history, in the sense of, for instance, trying to see white supremacy as not just the result of “big violence” like the slave trade and Jim crow, but continuing continuously down from their in ways that are often “officially invisible”—highway planners cutting their overpass straight through poor, black neighborhoods in New Orleans and elsewhere, things we’ve begun to recognize and name, like the school-to-prison pipeline.

So on the one hand, I recognize privilege as a handy way to encapsulate the unequal footing and preferential treatment resulting from these snaky histories of violence. I vividly remember reading Unpacking The Invisible Knapsack years ago and feeling the slow realization as it gently broadened my understanding of racism.

On the other hand, as I said, it’s the histories and the violence that concerns me, the things moving through time in nonlinear ways, sometimes winning, sometimes thwarted, always shifting. Paying attention to this view makes me feel energized, puts me square in the middle of an ocean of sociality in which I can be an important actor in my small ways.

Sometimes framings like privilege—and not just privilege, but I think it’s a good example—instead make me feel frozen, caught like a Kafka protagonist in front of a dizzyingly vast system. This snapshot view, while not inaccurate, seems to pin me, make me unable to immediately remedy the system’s injustice and thus I feel useless. All I can do is open my eyes and be aware of the horror.


I agree 100% what needs to happen.

Alls I’m saying is that the status quo isn’t defined by phenotype (in the same way that it’s inverse was for oppression). Those are distinctions worth making.

It’s not about not hurting oppressors feelings. I’m not defending that position at all. Change will come and it won’t be nice. (but it shouldn’t inadvertently shit on other (non-narratively) marginalized people).


Yes, agreed totally. And I feel the same way… I think the discomfort is actually important. We need to feel it and learn what to do with those feelings as we figure this shit out.


I agree. And I don’t interpret “privilege” to be as such. It’s complex and multi faceted, intersectional. Not defined by phenotype as much as our collective history and socio-economic-political dynamics, which can feel like phenotype at the surface but in reality digs into all sorts of invisible actors and dynamics that we need to make more visible to deal it them. We also can’t deny the impact that phenotype has on people’s daily lives, and how that intersects with the larger issues at stake.


@Rodrigo I just thought of a good way to phrase my thinking on the zero-sum issue.

It’s not zero sum because giving the same “prvelige” to everyone doesn’t take it away from those that already have it. Right now some have and some don’t. Changing things to that everyone is equal is about extending the same privileges and considerations to all. Nothing lost, a lot gained.

In that way they cease to be privileges and become the norm. We only frame it as privilege because it is currently only available to some work people while some are treated in lesser ways in the same systems.

We can only equalize how we are all treated if we acknowledge that the status quo is not equal.


I’ve found the discussions in this thread very valuable, I just want to chime in with this (lenghty) article (also available as a podcast) about the new meritocracy of the top 9.9% (not including the top 0.1%) :

I hope I’m not derailing the conversation too much, but this deals with a lot of the issues around wealth inequality, social mobility, and racial discrepancies in these metrics.

As a white cis male that’s solidly in this 9.9%, I’ve struggled with what I can and should be doing to help break this cycle of crystalizing concentration of wealth from one generation to the next. I’ve thought a lot about this issue, and ultimately I come to a somewhat controversial viewpoint:
I don’t believe in the right for parents to provide a better life for their children. I think this ultimately comes at the expense of other children, and I think we should be doing whatever we can to help the entire next generation, not just our own privileged offspring.

My wife and I have already come to the agreement that we won’t pay for our future children’s college, and won’t be giving them anything in our will.

The main approach I’ve taken so far is trying to directly transfer some of my wealth to the poorest people in the world:

With an added side benefit of getting some data about Universal Basic Income, to hopefully influence government programs to fix wealth inequalities in the future.


I think in that sense I’ve been arguing against a more phenotypical white privilege and/or male privilege, rather than a more nuanced definition of privilege that is not phenotypically based (class/wealth privilege, geographic privilege, etc…).

I’m still not happy with the term, but perhaps I’ve been arguing against a straw-man position that you weren’t taking.

Right, I think here we were talking about different things too. I guess you mean that it’s not zero-sum in that sense that giving those who “have not” more, doesn’t necessarily mean that those who “have”, have less. Which I agree with.

What I was arguing against is the very idea of intersectionality being one that is based on a zero-sum position. The fact that someone is oppressed (through historical racism, let’s say, in the U.S.) means that those that are not oppressed are therefor privileged (the boogeyman of white privilege that I mentioned in the first bit).

Therefore meaning that privilege cannot be a passive state that is an accidental byproduct of the oppression of others. Which is how I’ve understood the term to be generally used.

So I agree that it is not a zero-sum game in terms of what will come of the situation, but I still have issue with the idea of privilege as a passive characteristic for someone who is a phenotypical inversion of an oppressed class.

It’s good talking through these ideas too, as it gets to more nuanced understandings and positions.


Interesting, I’ll have a read through it, but on a quick glance over, and through watching their 3min video, it seems like they’re saying the “9.9%” have stayed the same, but the 0.1%'s increase in wealth has come from the 90% (bypassing the 9.9%ers).

I haven’t looked into that specifically before, but that doesn’t surprise me at all.

What does (superficially) surprise me is the framing of the problem as per the byline:

The class divide is already toxic, and is fast becoming unbridgeable. You’re probably part of the problem.

Again, I’ll read more critical to see what they’re getting at but this completely seems like a divide-and-conquer thing to draw attention (and blame) from the 0.1%.

As an aside, it’s things like these that I’ve totally taken for granted by moving away from the US. It’s sad that that’s not only a thing (paying a ton for school), but that it’s part of a conversation about “wealth” at all.


I’m not sure I totally follow.

Privilege reframes “oppression” in a few ways, one of which being the idea that our systems are biased in profound and subtle ways to the benefits of certain people. There are many dynamics to that including economics, race, gender, sexuality, geographic location, etc.

Rather than focusing solely on the “oppressed” or discriminated against groupings, Privilege gives us language to talk about the, largely unspoken, benefits of not being part of one of those groups. It’s something we didn’t have language for at all until recently. We could talk about racism in the U.S. and how it effects people of color, but not about how that racism benefits people who are not black, for example. That is the language that privilege gives us.

As a white man in North America I do receive benefits just because I’m white and male. I receive benefit of the doubt, presumption of innocence and best intention… I’m given leeway and am welcome in ways that other people are not. We have had language to talk about oppression for a long time, but we haven’t had language to talk about the benefits of not being part of the oppressed.

It’s the same thing that I think I wrote about in the cis thread… We’re starting to see new language to describe and talk about things that until now were either invisible or considered the norm/baseline that didn’t even need a name. By naming them we can treat it all as things that can be discussed, written about, and worked on.

In a way, focusing only on the oppression of certain peoples continues to put the burden on the oppressed groups to deal with the issues. By naming the benefits of oppression and who it benefits we can work on both sides and think about how our experiences differ.

The way you describe the zero-sum that you see makes sense to me. Not being oppressed is a privilege. It means having freedoms, rights, and abilities that are not universal.

I’d like to see the systems applies equally and fairly to all, regardless of economics, race, gender, religion etc. And I think that acknowledging that some people benefit from our current systems helps us see the path to change.


I don’t find the concept of privilege, as it is currently being deployed in mass discourse, to be pragmatic or politically expedient. I think it tends to conflate the general with the particular and as a result can obfuscate rather than illuminate intersectionality as the myriad and highly contingent play of structural forces acting on (or constructing/producing) the individual. Which to my mind, rather defeats the purpose.

That’s not even to get into the ways the strategy is weaponised against so-called identity politics (a term that should never have been allowed to gain a foothold). The tendency to divide and alienate is way too strong, as if feminism only benefits women, or as if racial justice only benefits those in the specific racial category being addressed. The same points can be made in a way that enhances shared struggle and solidarity without glossing over soooo very much.

The very notion that anyone would feel personally compelled to not pay for their kid’s college as a way of doing penance for privilege, I find depressing and take as further proof of the concept’s failure as a political strategy.


To be clear, I don’t consider this a “penance for privilege” I just fundamentally believe that my wealth only have a limited an impact on my children’s standing. For instance, my wife grew up in extreme poverty, and she was tasked with finding a way to pay for her own college entirely through scholarships, choosing cheaper public universities, and budgeting. Even then, she was very lucky to be smart enough to pull herself out of that situation.

I believe for capitalism to work effectively, each generation needs to start as equal as possible (which, even taking college and inheritance out the equation, is not very equal at all). If I could, I would change the way our public schools are funded (property taxes should be distributed across public school systems, instead of wealthy towns giving their wealthy children better education, and perpetuating the cycle).


I would take that as being textbook zero-sum.

To clarify what I’m trying to say, I think that by framing the problem as a dichotomy it lumps people together in an unhelpful way. So (all) black people were systematically oppressed in the US, does it necessarily follow that all white people are therefore privileged? There’s so many edge cases there that it’s not worth mentioning, but I can feel comfortable in saying that not all white people are privileged. (All dolphins are mammals. All humans are mammals. Are all humans dolphins?)

Just because oppression was very (phenotypically) specific, it doesn’t mean that the inverse of the phenotypical signifier is therefore equally privileged (as the inversion of the oppression).

Can you see that someone else may have had a different experience than you? How do you think they would feel if in spite of whatever oppression that they have experienced (intersectionally delineated or not), being told that they are privileged. They may be worse off than some theoretical ‘other’ that shares every characteristic they do except some specific oppressed characteristic, but that ‘other’ is just a hypothetical. Does the ability to ‘other’ a privileged class trump their lived experience?


Penance was perhaps a bit intense of a term (no offense intended). I just find the position to be a bit optimistic of where we are headed and very optimistic as far as capitalism is concerned. Capitalism is “working” as it it meant to, to my way of thinking.

Fully agree with you regarding tying property taxes to school funding. It is a terrible, terrible policy.


Fair point! I’ll admit that many of these issues are much more systematic than individual, but I don’t have much faith that the more systematic issues can change very easily, and I think there is something that can be done at the individual level.

My ideal America would have de-militarized community police forces, rehabilitative justice, free healthcare, maternity leave, daycare, & college, truly progressive taxes (including sales and payroll taxes, and removing the advantages of capital gains, inheritance, mortgage interest deductions and other tax breaks / government expenditures), open borders (truly open borders, not what the current administration likes to claim we have today…) and a livable wage provided for all via universal basic income. Many of these programs would disproportionately help disadvantaged and underprivileged groups, but should have many benefits for all.

While I hold my breath for that America to become a reality, I will try to put my money where my mouth is at an individual level, and try to use my privilege for some good in the meantime :slight_smile:


I am struggling to respond in a way that won’t ramble too much or come across in a jacked up way…!

I feel like your impulses, ideas and desires for a better and more equitable society are really great. And obviously it is none of my business what you do re your kid(s)! But I can’t help but notice that the conclusion of personally “putting your money where your mouth is” w/r/t sort of subtracting privilege from your kid, plays into the idea of privilege as a zero sum arrangement, as if that privilege will be transferred over to someone more worthy or oppressed, rather than just putting your kid in a position to have to supply cheap labor to enhance some company’s profit margins in order to gain access to a hopefully liveable wage. Bringing down an individual doesnt necessarily lift anybody else up. I think it may inadvertently support an idealized notion of meritocracy, as I assume you are expecting your kid to do ok in the end, though in reality this is also highly contingent on structural and historical forces, as well as being luck of the draw to some extent (think about rent and housing prices 20, 30, 40 years ago vs today, or tuition, or wages; or what kind of wage boost a degree will get you now as opposed to then, etc., etc. ad nauseum). Or even, with the charity aspect, it could be argued to be indirectly supporting the perpetuation of the very conditions you oppose by taking some modicum of pressure off the public sector to provide the material supports instead haphazardly supplied by charity.

I mean, maybe you’re a billionaire, but that is statistically improbable. I am definitely getting into rambling territory here. It just pains me to see the notion of privilege interpreted in an economic sense that amounts to a race to the bottom. Wealth on a level that is totally abstracted and just mind-bogglingly massive, is being swept away into an ever smaller number of hands, and it KILLS me to see people who are pulling in what would amount to a rounding error on these astronomical sums being made to feel like they are somehow outside the struggle just because they aren’t at the absolute bottom of the heap, or because someone is worse off.