The Power of Privilege
By: Annalise Wintz
Lead Clinical Case Manager
Bachelor of Arts in Psychology
The Power of Privilege
Privilege is invisible to those who have it. What do I mean by that? I mean that most of the time we may be privileged in ways that we have never given much thought to, or have not considered certain “natural” aspects of ourselves to be an aspect of privilege. Privilege is the unearned advantages granted to certain members of society. Below are some notions of privilege and I encourage you to question yourself as you read in what ways you obtain privilege.
Whether or not we are attracted to the opposite sex is something that we have no control over. Being heterosexual, or straight, is a privilege in many ways. Heterosexual individuals do not have to “come out” to other individuals (i.e. family or friends) and state that they are straight. In almost all cases, it is assumed that you are straight until you actually “come out” and say otherwise. Additionally, heterosexual individuals do not tend to worry about what others may think when holding their partner’s hand or showing PDA (public displays of affection). Their attraction to the opposite sex is typically not questioned, whether it be by family members, or higher institutions of power. Additionally, heterosexual family units are typically the only type taught and acknowledged in schools.
If you have never had a moment in your life where you realized you have been treated negatively solely based on the color of your skin, this is privilege. Fair skin is treated and seen as the norm in society and therefore people of color have been systemically discriminated against. As a white individual, you can be sure to have your race represented within any platform (television, books, magazines, etc.). If you get pulled over while driving, white individuals (or people with fair skin) can be sure it’s not because of their race. It is a privilege to be able to choose to speak up and take a stand against injustice and yet still know that your humanity is safe.
As a male, sometimes you have the privilege of being unaware of male privilege. Male privilege can be both discrete and obvious. Think about the fact that language within institutions has favored male individuals. An example would be mailman, fireman, chairman, policeman, fisherman, and even woman or female. Our own U.S. Constitution states, “All men are created equal.” Male privilege includes freely going places alone without worrying that something bad will happen to you or that you will be a target for harassment. Males (typically cisgender) are not expected to change their last name for marriage or questioned why they don’t want to.
Being able-bodied is often overlooked as privilege due to the fact that it comes so naturally to many individuals on a daily basis that we don’t even consider how our lives would be affected if we weren’t able-bodied. Being able-bodied includes being able to see, hear, feel, speak, and move around without difficulty. You are able to freely do daily tasks without needing additional assistance. Being able-bodied entails not having to think about or plan if where you are going or what you have to do will be accessible for you.
In the United States, being a natural-born citizen is a privilege in the sense that you did absolutely nothing to receive several benefits that come with being a U.S. citizen. You don’t experience the fear of being deported and can go in and out of your country knowing you will be let back in. You are able to vote in any election for individuals who will affect your very own life. You can apply for housing without worrying that someone will ask for proof of immigration status. When you are trying to get a driver’s license, you don’t tend to worry if you have all the correct documentation needed to obtain one. Lastly, you don’t have to experience a lengthy naturalization process simply by the fact you happened to be born in the U.S.
Privilege holds so much power. Think about the institutions that have the ability to decide how individuals are treated and viewed in society. Who or what is making the decisions that influence the behavior and actions of others? Recognizing privilege is difficult and takes a great amount of work if you have not thought about it before. I encourage you to continue to challenge yourself and the ways in which you are privileged, whether it is apparent or not.