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What is Privilege?

Unearned advantages that are highly valued but restricted to certain groups
(National Association of School Psychologists, 2020).

Privilege "refers to certain social advantages, benefits, or degrees of prestige and respect that an individual has by virtue of belonging to certain social identity groups. Within American and other Western societies, these privileged social identities—of people who have historically occupied positions of dominance over others—include whites, males, heterosexuals, Christians, and the wealthy, among others. Thus, privilege exists across a variety of dimensions, including race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, religion, and citizenship status" (Garcia, 2020).

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What is White Privilege?

White privilege should be viewed as a built-in advantage, separate from one’s level of income or effort (National Association of School Psychologists, 2020).

White privilege refers to the unearned advantages afforded to people who are assumed, based largely on complexion and related physical features, to be of European ancestry. Examples include:

  • Access to better schools.
  • Access to better healthcare.
  • Women don't clutch their purses/bags tighter when walking by you.
  • You aren't stopped in your neighborhood and asked if you belong there.
  • People don't ask where you are from based on the color of your skin. 

White Privilege simply means that the color of your skin has not made the challenges of your life harder than they inherently were.

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Examples of Privilege

The Privilege Institute This link opens in a new window lists the following as examples of white privilege:

  • Assume that most of the people you or your children study in history classes and textbooks will be of the same race, gender, or sexual orientation as you are.
  • Assume that your failures will not be attributed to your race or your gender.
  • Not have to think about your race, or your gender, or your sexual orientation, or disabilities, on a daily basis.

What Privilege Isn't

White privilege is—perhaps most notably in this era of uncivil discourse—a concept that has fallen victim to its own connotations. The two-word term packs a double whammy that inspires pushback. 1) The word white creates discomfort among those who are not used to being defined or described by their race. And 2) the word privilege, especially for poor and rural white people, sounds like a word that doesn’t belong to them—like a word that suggests they have never struggled (Collins, 2018).

The terms "Privilege" and "White Privilege" can garner strong reactions. People may bristle about the connotation that privilege brings - that they are wealthy. But, White Privilege doesn't always equal wealth. It doesn't mean:

  • All white people are rich.
  • That your life hasn't been hard or you haven't suffered.
  • That you don't face discrimination based on identities like being a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
  • That you didn't work hard to get where you are.