Understanding Privilege

Understanding Privilege
It seems that privilege is discussed more and more often these days and I think it’s important to understand what it is and how it relates to human rights. Privilege relates to social inequality. It is the concept that some groups are afforded more advantages, rights, or power based on factors like race, gender, social class, age, and sexual orientation. The more privilege you have, the “easier” you have it in society, meaning it’s easier for you to access important resources like jobs, housing, education, social status, and other benefits. Those with high privilege generally enjoy higher prestige and a greater sense of belonging to society in general.

An example of someone with a lot of privilege would be a college-educated, upper-middle class, straight white man living in America. His social status shows that he has been educated and that he has access to good job opportunities, his sexual orientation shows that he has always had the right to relationships and marriage without stigma, his race gives him many privileges over those of other races, his maleness affords him many privileges over women and those of other genders, and his country of origin demonstrates that he is accustomed to a very privileged Western society.

Having privilege is not an inherently wrong or bad thing. Many great and honorable people are born with a lot of privilege. However, it is crucial that we recognize our privilege and understand that there are times when we need to “check our privilege.” What this means is that we recognize the opportunities in life we’ve been afforded and keep that in mind, particularly when conversing with others--of virtually any background. We need to remember that what we have experienced is likely different from what they have experienced, and in order to really understand where the other person is coming from, we need to remember to be aware of the privileges we’ve experienced in our own lives that have colored the way we think, feel, and act.

As human right advocates, it’s important that we keep privilege in mind as we dialogue about important issues with each other. Understanding our privilege and keeping it in check will allow us to have better, clearer, more effective conversations with each other. It’s truly a matter of being willing to set aside our differences and really listen to what other people have to say and do our 100% best to understand what the other is trying to communicate. I challenge each of you to examine your own lives to see the areas in which you are privileged, and to keep that in mind as you have important conversations with others.


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