Life-improvement advice for the privileged


Not equally privileged, but having privilege within the system due to the effects of the oppression. Nowhere did I say equal.

I would never say that someone is privileged, but that one has privilege in a specific way in a set of circumstances.

The whole point of this is that you cannot put people into large buckets, but instead look at facets of who they are in the context of where they exist and see how the systems either benefit them or not.

Yes. In that all white people in the United States benefited from the oppression of all black people through the systems that it setup and reinforced.

This does not mean that all white people have great lives and face no hardship, nor does it diminish the very real hardship that white people can face in many circumstances.

I would not say that they are privileged, but that when working within a system they benefit from certain things that other people working within that system do not have.

I can absolutely see how on the surface it can rub people the wrong way. I don’t know what to do about that, because the things it describes are observable in our lives… And maybe part of what that bothers them about it is a bad explanation or even the deep seated and implicit results of the discriminatory culture itself.

However, for example, any white male in North America, regardless of their individual experiences, has certain privileges that a women, or a black male, or a LGBTQ person, do not in those same circumstances. This is precisely not universal, but very contextual. It’s about the specific circumstances, context, systems, and relationships between them.

For example, and this is not hypothetical as it happened to a friend of mine: A house on a street burns down in the middle of the night. The family gets out ok, when the fire department and police arrive they question the black home owner as if he might have caused it. Only when the person’s white spouse intervenes do the police change their tone and approach.

We can talk about this in two ways, one in terms of police racism and discrimination, the other as the benefit of the doubt given to the white person the same situation. Both things are worth talking about.

Another real life example: I went to a coffee shop with the owner of the gym I go do, a black woman. There was a black man in line behind us. The coffee shop attendant asked me what I want, then asked him what “they” wanted. I was addressed, the black man was addressed, but the worker assumed that the black people were together and that the man would speak for both of them. With my white female partner we would still encounter the sexist assumption that I would speak for the couple, but they would never assume that I was with some random other white person. I am safe from that sort of assumption and from being made to feel what she felt in that context. In the same circumstances the three of us were treated differently…

I agree with @quixot that the concept can be both general and particular, but I think that is actually it’s power. It lets us look at the systemic influence on particular circumstances and incidents and place them within a larger picture. It is also what can make it hard to understand and communicate well…

It’s a far from perfect theory, but I have yet to hear a better one for describing what is happening.

If we think the popular discourse is broken, I can’t disagree there. I don’t think this term is the main problem in that regard and that’s probably a whole other topic.

I also feel like I’m repeating myself from earlier in the thread… so it might be time to call it for now.


I think part of the problem is the weird incoherence of holding someone to account for “having” privilege where privilege = an absence, i.e. an absence of oppression. And the absence is treated as something of substance. If that isn’t too convoluted. Especially when in a lot of cases, this absence will be pretty much hypothetical or require a good bit of glossing over.

For example, a person of color is disproportionately likely to be stopped by the cops for no reason. Say there is a white guy in a nearly entirely white area. A white guy who displays class markers associated in his area with being working class or “poor” maybe also gets stopped by the cops for no good reason. Will it be politically expedient to use white privilege as a frame for trying to get this guy to join a mass opposition to police overreach.

Is it politically expedient to use male privilege as a frame to get a guy who has been picked on by other guys for not conforming to some arbitrary standard of masculine conduct or physique, to join a mass movement looking to blow up the concept of binary gender.

Because people of color are statistically more likely to be shot by the cops, it doesn’t mean that we shouldnt talk about the white people who are shot by the cops, because they were less likely to have been shot by the cops (but were still shot by the cops) (Please don’t take this for some kind of “all lives matter” argument…Black Lives Matter is a coherent and necessary political/cultural/rhetorical construct and does not fall under what I am saying re privilege as a rhetorical strategy)

I am being totally clumsy in stating this (tapping this out on a phone into a tiny little square isn’t helping!). I can see perhaps in a ‘consciousness raising’* context, a la 2nd wave feminism, privilege being useful as a concept in exposing the constellation of structural forces people are subject to, occuring within interpersonal discussions designed to enhance solidarity and brainstorm action. The personal is political! And there is much common ground! But as a rhetorical strategy, where all that nuance is stripped out, it can serve to reify the very divisions, the very hierarchical structure, that it seeks to topple.

We need to build organized mass movements with all the numbers we can get. That is gonna be difficult if people are being told not to worry about issues that effect them because they could be worse off. It can come across as sort of dismissive and ‘be thankful for what you have’ or as if it would be selfish for a person to be self-interested in the sense of being spurred on to action by the issues effecting their life in an immediate in personal sense.

I wanna get more on the track of revealing how an injury to one, is an injury to all!

Sorry to be going on and on. I am trying to get a handle on what language to use myself and am kinda continually working through it.

*SO badly want in-person, community-based consciousness raising groups to be a thing…


Yes, I’m totally with you. However, if all the meaning and nuance is being stripped out then that’s just bad discourse and we need a different strategy in those circumstances. Dismissing a theory due to how badly people use it doesn’t make sense… if we did that we’d be in bad shape to talk about anything.

If this is how these ideas are coming across then we have a lot of work to do. I’ve never seen these concepts used to dismiss people’s life experience, and if it has then that is a major misuse and should be corrected in the moment by people who know better.

We have a major failure of popular discourse right now. Our media are totally broken, education is totally broken, and that leads to a situation where ideas can be easily coopted and misused either through ignorance or malice. That’s a whole other topic, and needs to be addressed if we hope to make real progress on the issues in this thread.

I wouldn’t dismiss potentially valuable concepts because people have a hard time understanding them though, we won’t get very far like that…

Edit to add: We need to separate discussion about the cultural theory of what is happening vs how things are communicated at scale and used to organize and rally. These do not have to be the same thing, but I’d argue that to successfully rally people at scale the organizer needs to understand and work with these ideas.


[quote=“emenel, post:186, topic:11343”]
I’d argue that to successfully rally people at scale the organizer needs to understand and work with these ideas. [/quote]

Edit: block quote fail!

Yeah, I wouldn’t say the concept is worthless(well, maybe I would in the heat of a polemical rant :smile: I am extremely frustrated as of late with the state of things and read far more mass media than is healthy for me) just that it’s of limited, and specific, use and that its use as a rhetorical strategy is often counterproductive. Context matters, and it is vulnerable to a whole lot of contextual abuse, essentializing, etc.


Sure… but isn’t any idea subject to those same abuses and pitfalls? The power of a concept is knowing what it’s good for and when it makes sense…


Oh, I fully agree on the need to know when/where a concept can be advantageously deployed. I just think this particular one is being deployed in an often non-useful and/or counterproductively un-nuanced way.


We run elections on sound bites. You can say that a very large number of concepts are being deployed in an often non-useful and/or counterproductively un-nuanced way. And the problem only gets more acute when we start to address structural problems that are core to our long-standing democratic dysfunction.

So, to combat this, lean into the nuance. Avoid oversimplification and make an effort to both learn and educate through your discourse. Do not abandon language, for words continue to have meaning, in spite of widespread ignorance of that meaning.


Would like to just make the point (since the entire conversation as to whether language around privilege is useful has been lead by two (assuming) straight white guys) that language around privilege is definitely extremely useful to me and my friends who lack certain privileges.
It’s useful to have a language where we don’t have to keep talking about how we are oppressed (a language that inherently makes us feel helpless) but we can instead talk about how others have privilege, and how that affects us.

Just thought it should be noted that discussing its relevance to people who are more privileged is kinda secondary to discussing its importance to people who are less privileged.


I’ve been purposefully not been responding to some of the last posts in this thread, but not for the reason(s) you’ve pointed out here (and I’ve really loved all the points @quixot and @alanza have made). I’ve just been talking a lot in this thread and want to hear what others have to say.

But I did want to point out that the conversation was had, not led, and I am not straight (bi & poly (so not even pair normative)), nor am I white (ethnically hispanic/cuban and what white means has changed regarding where I’ve lived (clarification on this here)).

So your assumption is not only incorrect, but is exactly the kind of barrier that this kind of language and concept can create because even if I was white cishet, would that diminish any of the points I’ve made? Or more importantly, the conversation between @emenel and myself has been to understand each others (deeply) nuanced positions. Wouldn’t that be even more desirable a thing to have had even if I was white cishet?


but that’s such a loooong post
Here’s the relevant part @Rodrigo was referring to:

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.

And it’s true. My parents for years as I grew up were like “Don’t marry a Cuban!” It was a classist thing. Even though Miami has a large population of Cubans–maybe they’re even the majority–they get shat on by other South Americans in Miami (specifically the Venezuelans, Colombians, and Argentinians).

Edit: And he was the wrong kind of Cuban too…The kind whose family sacrificed goats and chickens in the garage! Miami is a wild place.


I’m just about done with this thread, but think that everyone would stand to benefit from a listen to this podcast: About Race with Reni Eddo Lodge.

Reni Eddo Lodge released a controversial (to some) book last year called Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, and this podcast is a continuation of some of the ideas she explored in that book. Hits include:

  • The white working class, and how it’s is a nonsensical term because a working class without people of colour does not exist (although obviously discussed with more nuance than this!)
  • The continued success of non-working class people of colour being held up as examples of why white privilege doesn’t exist
  • Media representation, specifically from the late 80s and 90s in comparison to now
  • “Political blackness”, in contrast to phenotypic blackness
  • Interviews with Billy Bragg, Diane Abbott, Nish Kumar, and many others

This is all sort of UK-specific, but I think it’s really important to get some more diverse discourse around racial issues, particularly because a lot of the discussion in the podcast world is coming out of the US, where things are in some ways very different, but in other ways exactly the same. It touches on a lot of the things that @Rodrigo and @emenel have been talking about, but from the perspective of a black author who has borne the brunt of a lot of backlash against her book because of many peoples’ white fragility. The last episode in particular relates to this thread, and features Reni reflecting on the question she is always asked by white people: “what can I do?”

Will repost this to the podcast recs thread too.