Exploring Privilege

This resource page was developed by the Exploring Privilege Special Task Group (STG) as part of Tania Israel’s 2010-2011 Presidential Initiative.  STG members  included: Rebecca Toporek, Daniel Walinsky, Anneliese Singh, Janie Pinterits, Will Liu, Lisa Spanierman, Matt Englar-Carlson, Pam Foley, and Lew Schlosser.

What do we mean by privilege?

The STG developed the following definition to articulate a common understanding of privilege for the purposes of the presidential initiative on exploring privilege:

Privilege is comprised of unearned advantages that are conferred on individuals based on membership in a dominant group or assumed membership. Privilege has the following characteristics:

  • Privilege reflects, reifies and supports dominant power structures.
  • Privilege is supported structurally and systemically, including an investment in maintaining a lack of consciousness about the benefits and costs resulting from that privilege.
  • Privilege is enacted through societal structures, systems, and daily interactions.
  • A single individual may experience intersecting privileges and oppressions which may reflect differential receipt of benefits.

 Thoughts About Privilege:

 “*%&* you for wanting to talk about homophobia while exploiting the desperation of undocumented immigrants to clean your hallways, bathe your children and cook your dinner for less than you and I spend on our tax deductible lunch!” (from Stacyann Chin’s speech at the Gay Games VII)

“Even if people from dominant groups are aware of their social status, they don’t feel privileged or powerful. Most people are struggling to live their lives. They worry about their jobs, their families, their health. They personally don’t have access to great amounts of resources or make decisions that affect the nation. More people feel controlled, rather than in control.” (Goodman, 2001, p. 33)

“Resistance stems from fear and discomfort. Because we are asking people to question their fundamental belief systems, it makes sense that people feel threatened and act resistant.” (Goodman, 2001, p. 63)

“When it comes to privilege, it doesn’t really matter who we really are. What matters is who other people think we are, which is to say, the social categories they put us in.”(Johnson, 2001, p. 35)

“If you have come to help me you are wasting your time.  But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”  Aboriginal Activists Group

“Like many other Maori undergraduate students who attended university in the 1970s I read some texts for my formal course of study and another set of alternative readings to keep sane, to keep connected to the rest of my life and, more importantly, to make sense of things that were happening around me. Much of that alternative reading course is now collected in anthologies labelled as cultural studies.” (Linda Tuhiwai Smith).


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