Introduction To Privilege

The place to ask questions about the basic values of Atheism Plus, feminism and social justice.

Introduction To Privilege

Postby BlagHag » Mon Aug 27, 2012 11:31 pm

I feel like the concept of "privilege" is a huge stumbling block for a lot of people when it comes to understanding social justice. I know it took me a long time to realize what it meant for me to have white privilege, and for me not to react angrily to the concept. So I thought I'd start a thread collecting resources for understanding privilege. Here's just one of my favorites:

Of Dogs and Lizards: A Parable of Privilege
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Re: Resources for understanding privilege?

Postby Pteryxx » Mon Aug 27, 2012 11:34 pm

Will threads like this be a source for the Educational Resources main page?
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Re: Resources for understanding privilege?

Postby BlagHag » Mon Aug 27, 2012 11:54 pm

If they prove useful, then sure :)
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Re: Resources for understanding privilege?

Postby mdevile » Tue Aug 28, 2012 12:07 am

Here are a couple of links that have been useful to me:

Unpacking The Invisible Backpack (understanding white privilege)
The Male Privilege Checklist

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Re: Resources for understanding privilege?

Postby Quester » Tue Aug 28, 2012 12:28 am

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Re: Resources for understanding privilege?

Postby Joreth » Tue Aug 28, 2012 12:31 am

The revised article on why Greg Laden is not afraid of dogs, except when he is: http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2012/ ... elevators/
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Re: Resources for understanding privilege?

Postby Xenologer » Tue Aug 28, 2012 3:29 am

This is a Privilege Discussion 101 tutorial that (for full disclosure) I wrote. It's got links to some goodness in there, though. Here is another one I wrote on What Derailing Is and Is Not, specifically about men coming into discussion of rape with their own experiences, and the need for them to do so in the Solidarity Way and not the Derailing Way.

Stuff which is not by me but which I like a lot:

Privilege is driving a Smooth Road and Not Even Knowing It

The Privilege of Politeness, about why it is unfair to always expect someone who was just harmed by systematic oppression (again) to be the "bigger" and most polite person ever about their hurt.

I Don't Care if You're Offended, on the difference between "offense" and "harm," and why we should care more about the latter than the former.

How to be Privileged and Talk About Marginalization

Once Again for the Clue-Challenged, criticism is not censorship and should not be treated as censorship or censorship waiting to happen.

"Check my what?" On privilege and what we can do about it

And this is just something I think someone in this space will get use out of. Keeping Us Going: A Manual on Support Groups for Social Change Activists

Hope something in there was helpful!
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Re: Resources for understanding privilege?

Postby Sassafras » Tue Aug 28, 2012 3:41 am

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Re: Resources for understanding privilege?

Postby ikrase » Tue Aug 28, 2012 4:11 am

I don't think I can really do better than what is posted so far, but I do have this unusual thing to add. I hope it's not a derail though.

One issue that might come up is the criticism of 'counter-privilege' lists. Occasionally these have come up, mostly from MRAs claiming a huge number of things which are mostly untrue or examples of benevolent sexism. However, they may contain a few points that actually make some sense and for which some, but not all, of the theories relating to privilege apply. So far nobody has done a really good criticism of these.

On the non-MRA, explicitly egalitaran side is http://dannyscorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/search?q=symmetry which is NOT INTENDED to suggest that the oppressions are equal. by 'Danny'.
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Re: Resources for understanding privilege?

Postby Jadehawk » Tue Aug 28, 2012 5:10 am

to get people some resources on the flipside of privilege, maybe some reading about microaggressions?

I can unfortunately only offer dead-tree books as suggestions (though IIRC, the first book exists as a pdf somewhere on the internets)
"Microaggressions in everyday life : race, gender, and sexual orientation" and "Microaggressions and Marginality: Manifestation, Dynamics, and Impact", both by Derald Wing Sue.

The latter book has the amusing problem that it actually commits a microaggression against agnostics and atheists, by defining those terms incorrectly :-p
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Re: Resources for understanding privilege?

Postby Kassiane » Tue Aug 28, 2012 5:23 am

http://aspergersquare8.blogspot.com/2009/08/checklist-of-neurotypical-privilege-new.html <-neurotypical privilege (the drafts were longer and, frankly, better)

www.http://derailingfordummies.com If you've got privilege on the axis you're discussing, these are derailing & silencing tactics privileged people tend to like.

http://www.microaggressions.com/ For understanding microaggressions, which are those little. tiny. things. that add up and up and up.
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Re: Resources for understanding privilege?

Postby mdevile » Tue Aug 28, 2012 7:01 am

two videos about microagression here
Shakesville feminism 101 post on women just looking for things to be angry about also addresses microagressions

And microagressions.com, mentioned above is a good source for user submitted stories.

I'll see if I can find some more tomorrow. I know I read a fantastic blog about it somewhere a year or so, but my google-fu isn't with me tonight
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Re: Resources for understanding privilege?

Postby MekkaGodzilla » Tue Aug 28, 2012 12:29 pm

It seems Tim Wise was not mentionned yet. Videos of his speeches about white priviledge were a good introduction to the concept of priviledge to me. I remember discovering Tim Wise thanks to a blog post by PZ.

Here is one of many available videos on youtube : Talk - Tim Wise on White Privilege
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Re: Resources for understanding privilege?

Postby kbonn » Tue Aug 28, 2012 3:06 pm

Great post so far, and helpful as well. I do have one point I would like to make coming from a privileged point of view. As Jen mentioned, when you are first are introduced to it in a personal sense, it is unsettling, uncomfortable and can even make you angry or very upset. I stumbled into this myself on FtB, where I jumped into a conversation without really considering how different a situation is for people who are not in my group. Well, I should correct myself, I did consider it, but I simply don't have the knowledge to draw on to do so in any meaningful way. Not knowing the frequency of trolling on such topics, the nature or perceived tone of some of the responses to me seemed overly hostile(at worst) and unwelcoming(at best). I went back and forth a bit, almost everything I said made it worse, except that I did express why the issue(s) in question were important to me and some people accepted that I was not a troll and not trying to derail the thread. In doing so, they pointed me towards some of the Crommunist's posts, which I found very helpful.

Anyhow, the point I am trying to get to is this. The first time a person is exposed to the notion of being privileged, it is most often not pleasant, and they will probably get defensive/angry about it. It is important to not introduce them to it in a way that makes it more unpleasant. Please, please do not make this out as me trying to blame the underprivileged for the problem. But I imagine part of the point here is trying to spread the word, and that is going to include reaching out to a lot of people who are privileged in one area or another. Most of the work/effort to understand privilege is going to be on them, say its 90%/10% on the person of privilege, we still need to get as close to that 10% as possible. After all, we want people to stay, and contribute.

Saying things like "check your privilege" or "Your privilege is showing" is probably not the best thing to say to someone with a low post count, as they may not be familiar with the concept, or at least in regards to themselves. People who somehow find there way to this site and are atheists are probably not going to take the time to read intro material, (unless you force them somehow) they are far more likely to jump right in.

I think a good example of this is from the Dogs and Lizards post:
When she says “you don’t have to put up with being leered at,” what she means is, “you don’t ever have to be wary of sexual interest.”


Helping to break down exactly what the issue is helps to pinpoint what is meant by privilege, and why the person needs to be aware of it. Describing things that happen, without explaining why it is harmful to you makes it harder for someone who is not part of your group to understand what it is you are getting at, or why it is a problem at all. Without this understanding, things can decend into extremely unhelpful bickering, where there is no progress made. Potential allies can become enemies(NOTE: I am not blaming anyone here for this), most often due to their own inexperience and probably youth. I doubt much/most of the pushback against A+ is from actual overt racists, homophobes etc.. Are there a few? Probably. But for the most part, I doubt it. They feel attacked for being White, Male, and strait (or what ever group they are actually a part of). However silly or irrelevant you might think that is, most of these people probably agree with you on most things, yet now your are both at odds. I think too large a portion of white male strait athiests are being "turned off" from FtB and A+, I don't think it really has anything to do with Feminism, but has everything to do with privilege and the communication gap that exists there. People are stubborn, and once turned off, might not come back, when they feel insulted, might insult you back, etc...

I have more to say on the subject, but I think it serves the discussion better to do it one part at a time. Should this perhaps be a separate subject, I don't want to derail this one, perhaps "Communicating with people of privilege"?

I don't know that I communicated this in the best way possible, so if it seems hostile, it is not meant to be.
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Privilege Discussion Thread

Postby Lokayata » Wed Aug 29, 2012 12:17 pm

I'm trying to understand the concept of privilege and how its used in social justice discourse. I've read through a number of articles in the thread where people posted resources on privilege, and I think I'm forming a coherent sense of what the term means. A lot of these ideas have struck me as epiphanies, although I'm sure they are completely common-place observations to people more familiar with these issues. Still, I was hoping I could run some of the ideas by you to ensure that my interpretation is not completely idiosyncratic. Instead of posting a wall of text listing all my myriad confusions, I should probably take things one by one. My first big (purported) insight about privilege is that the concept doesn't refer to just any advantage possessed by a socially dominant group.

We can separate two distinct kinds of social disparity. First, there are statistical advantages that certain social groups possess over other groups, where It does not follow that every member of the former group will possess the relevant advantage. The wage gap is an example of this. It is likely that a man will earn more over a lifetime than the average woman performing the same job (at least, that's my understanding), but it might still be the case that some particular man earns less than the average woman. Another example of this kind of disparity is the differential likelihood of being a victim of violent crime among white and black people in the US. It is of course possible that some unfortunate white person experiences more violent crime in his or her life than the average black person, but that doesn't vitiate the statistical generalization.

The second kind of disparity is not statistical. It is an advantage that every member of some social group possesses. The nature of this advantage usually has something to do with the emotional significance of certain experiences. It might not be completely impossible for a man to be catcalled, but it is impossible for that experience to have the same kind ofoppressive valence as it does for a woman. Because of the statistical truth that women are far more likely to be victims of sexual violence, even if a man is catcalled it will not feel as threatening (or at least, not threatening in the same way) as it might for a woman. This advantage accrues to all men. There are certain oppressive experiences we are shielded from purely by virtue of being male (or perhaps cis male).

My understanding is that it is the latter sort of disparity people are referring to when they talk about privilege, so arguments along the lines of "I'm a man and I make no money at all, so where's my privilege?" miss the point. Is this an accurate reading of the concept? I ask because I sometimes see privilege used to refer to any disparity that advantages a socially dominant group, but it does seem to me that most people working on social justice interpret the concept in the more specific manner I describe. Does my separation of these two forms of disparity make sense to those of you more familiar with this stuff?
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Re: Resources for understanding privilege?

Postby Mad Maxine » Wed Aug 29, 2012 12:49 pm

I like the idea of a "how to" do X thread for a lot of these types of topics. Privilege, in particular, is one of those things that seems to require a bit of patience and willingness to break through a mental barrier from both parties in the discussion. Tips and guidelines about how to best broach the subject and communicate the issue in an empathetic way would be appreciated.
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Re: Questions about Privilege

Postby JediPsychologist » Wed Aug 29, 2012 1:58 pm

Dude, you nailed it. In fact, you parsed it out with more detail than I think I ever could.

To me, the thing that makes the second example so difficult to teach or describe is its subtlety. You can't un-learn a lifetime of experience just by trying out a thought exercise. And even if I describe to you, in great detail, what it's like for me (as a woman) to walk out my front door every day, you will still approach the hypothetical situation differently and without that lens of ever-present fear. This is for two reasons: 1) it's a hypothetical situation. You get to walk away when it's done. And it's really hard to shake off that temporary mindset and truly get the experience. 2) You've simply lived a different life. You're a man, you're physically stronger, and you haven't spent 20+ years receiving the same societal cues that I've received. Cues that tell me that the state of things (that state being that I am in danger - to some degree - whenever I am in public) is what it is and I cannot escape/change/avoid it. Also, cues that tell me to shut up and sit down whenever I draw attention to how wrong that is.

I tried a thought exercise like this with my boyfriend, and he just couldn't get past this idea of "So go somewhere else. Somewhere safer." I tried explaining: "But then I'm just somewhere new, with a new set of dangers, and now they're unfamiliar. I need to gauge my surroundings all over again and decide whether I feel safe here, too, and the answer is never 100% 'yes.' There is always some degree of concern; something to be wary of."

It's a difficult concept to convey. And I think, at its heart, that's what privilege is. It's subtle. It's a world view that tells you that everything is okay and people are just complaining about minor, uncommon nuisances, and that true danger/disparity/bigotry/what-have-you isn't really that common. It's rejecting the notion that these things are commonplace and fundamental and nested deep within human culture. It's not always conscious, in fact it's usually done out of totally legitimate ignorance. That's what makes it so hard to combat.
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Re: Questions about Privilege

Postby Ginny » Wed Aug 29, 2012 2:10 pm

Yes. To look at it a slightly different way, you could draw a distinction between "bad stuff I experience because of some individual or circumstantial factor" and "bad stuff I experience because of some key part of my identity." A man who makes less money than most women will likely blame it on the major he chose, the fact that his boss hates him, his inability to wake up in the mornings, or something like that. A woman subject to catcalling usually views it as part of the cost of existing as a woman. The same man, on getting a great job, is not likely to continue thinking of himself as forever doomed to a low-wage lifestyle. The same woman, on moving to a town where she's never subject to harassment, is likely still aware that she's vulnerable to harassment if anything changes... if she moves again, or if a bunch of assholes come to town, or if she goes on vacation. Harassment remains part of her reality in a way that low income doesn't remain a part of the man's reality. Does that make sense?
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Re: Questions about Privilege

Postby OrneryPest » Wed Aug 29, 2012 2:33 pm

Speaking of women catcalling men, I recall an experience of mine about a month ago. I was out for a walk just after lunch, and was walking past one of our more popular bars, and three or four drunk hillbilly women came staggering out, and one of them looked at me and yelled, "Hey, yo looks lak a man whut need a HUG!!" and she came running towards me with her arms outstretched. She ended up falling face down in a puddle, so I laughed. I did not feel threatened. Now, if a drunk man acts that way towards a woman, I can easily see how she would feel threatened. I therefore resolve never to act that way towards any woman.
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Re: Questions about Privilege

Postby JediPsychologist » Wed Aug 29, 2012 2:43 pm

Ginny wrote:Yes. To look at it a slightly different way, you could draw a distinction between "bad stuff I experience because of some individual or circumstantial factor" and "bad stuff I experience because of some key part of my identity."


This is a minor point, but a pet peeve of mine: it's because of the way society dictates people should treat people like me - people with this "key part of my identity." There is nothing inherent about being female that requires that I attract dangerous, violent attention, or get put down when I try to voice my opinion. The fault is in human culture, not in me.

But your point still stands. I just twitch whenever I see people phrasing it that way, and feel the need to clarify. There's always the danger you'll be taken the wrong way.
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Re: Questions about Privilege

Postby Zagloba » Wed Aug 29, 2012 6:09 pm

Lokayata wrote:The second kind of disparity is not statistical. It is an advantage that every member of some social group possesses. The nature of this advantage usually has something to do with the emotional significance of certain experiences. It might not be completely impossible for a man to be catcalled, but it is impossible for that experience to have the same kind ofoppressive valence as it does for a woman. Because of the statistical truth that women are far more likely to be victims of sexual violence, even if a man is catcalled it will not feel as threatening (or at least, not threatening in the same way) as it might for a woman. This advantage accrues to all men. There are certain oppressive experiences we are shielded from purely by virtue of being male (or perhaps cis male).


I wouldn't get too hung up on whether a disparity is truly inherent or merely statistically probable. There will dependably be outliers, and the more you listen in on conversations about privilege/advantage/injustice, the more you'll notice outliers being brought in as supposedly devastating counterexamples. That line of argument works well in mathematics; it's terrible for understanding something as complicated and fuzzy as society.
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Re: Questions about Privilege

Postby JediPsychologist » Wed Aug 29, 2012 6:23 pm

Zagloba wrote:I wouldn't get too hung up on whether a disparity is truly inherent or merely statistically probable. There will dependably be outliers, and the more you listen in on conversations about privilege/advantage/injustice, the more you'll notice outliers being brought in as supposedly devastating counterexamples. That line of argument works well in mathematics; it's terrible for understanding something as complicated and fuzzy as society.


In statistics it's entirely irrelevant. All social phenomena are arranged on a bell curve. You can't disprove the trend by presenting an outlier; anecdotal evidence is not statistically significant and not a relevant or productive way to discuss social phenomena.
(In case that was confusing, I'm agreeing with you.)
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Re: Resources for understanding privilege?

Postby Mocha » Wed Aug 29, 2012 6:29 pm

I think one of the best starting points I've read is "Oppression" by Marilyn Frye. I think it does a really good job of explaining the ideas of oppression and privilege.

I think Peggy McIntosh has a good piece on white privilege.

Some other good books, although I've only had the pleasure of reading bits and pieces, is "The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy" by Allan G Johnson, and "Ways of Seeing" by John Berger, especially chapter 3.

I think I saw someone link to the spoon theory earlier, so I'm not going to link that one, even though it's my favorite.

I think someone also linked to Shakesville, which is a yay!
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Re: Resources for understanding privilege?

Postby AnatomyProf » Thu Aug 30, 2012 1:30 am

Are there any resources on regional differences in the frequency or intensity of male privilege (or any other for that matter). I'm asking this as a person who has lived in Utah and California. In Utah there was a purge of female higher ups when a new President came in to our school. In CA the chancellor, president, and 3 of 5 deans are female. These aren't the same worlds by any means in regards to male privilege (or white privilege for that matter). There must be comparative studies of this stuff.
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