Another Way of Looking at Social Privilege

Ashley L. Peterson
Jun 16, 2020 · 4 min read
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Lately, white privilege has been a hot topic. The people I’ve come across who take a stance against the idea of white privilege seem to have in common the line of thinking that they haven’t been handed anything, so how can they have social privilege?

I thought it might be worth reframing social privilege in terms of what one is not exposed to. It’s impossible to know what we’re not exposed to unless we witness the burdens that others are exposed to.

Social privilege vs. social burden

Column A exists solely because column B does, and solely in relation to the corresponding burden in column B. The burdens experienced in column B are going differ based on the particular society and the point in time at which they occur. Column A doesn’t go away just because people in column A says it does; both column A and column B are only eliminated when the burdens of column B are eliminated.

The problem with minimizing the privileges in column A is that it implies that column B doesn’t exist, isn’t significant, or isn’t meaningful. I know that’s why I react very strongly when I see people minimizing white privilege; to me, it conveys a message that systemic racism either doesn’t occur or is only minimally important.

Having social privilege

Having privilege doesn’t make someone a bad person, because it’s not something that you have any sort of direct control over. I had no choice about being born white. I can and do choose to take an anti-racist stance, but that doesn’t change the fact that I have white privilege. White privilege isn’t something that I hold within me; it’s a free pass that I get from society at large that means that I will not get targeted by systemic racism because of the colour of my skin.

There’s nothing I can do to shed my white privilege on an individual level, since that privilege doesn’t exist because of me; it exists because of racism that occurs at a systemic level. White privilege will disappear when systemic racism disappears. To know when that happens, I need to listen to what people who’ve been subjected to that type of racism are saying.

Intersectionality

The issues surrounding a particular type of privilege and associated burden aren’t going to be the same for every social issue, so they’re not going to be the same conversation. Conversations about all social inequalities are important, but addressing a conversation about one type of privilege by redirecting to an unrelated type of burden ends up doing a disservice to both issues. If someone’s talking to me about cisgender privilege and I counter that by claiming the effects of mental illness stigma, two very important areas for conversation both end up being shut down.

Moving forward

Originally published at https://mentalhealthathome.org on June 16, 2020.

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Ashley L. Peterson

Written by

Mental health blogger | Former MH nurse | Living with depression | Author of 3 books, latest is Managing the Depression Puzzle | mentalhealthathome.org

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the ways we learn

Ashley L. Peterson

Written by

Mental health blogger | Former MH nurse | Living with depression | Author of 3 books, latest is Managing the Depression Puzzle | mentalhealthathome.org

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the ways we learn

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