What Is Privilege?

When logging on to social media or watching the news, you may often hear the word “privilege” being used. For many, this can be a confusing concept to grasp. Learning about privilege will allow us to become more open-minded, and move towards a world that is more inclusive and empathetic to the challenges of others. Here we will outline some basic principles to better understand privilege. Keep in mind, this is just a foundation, and there is still so much more to learn about this topic.

Checking Your Privilege

When checking your privilege, you may realize it’s intersectional. Meaning, it’s possible for people to be oppressed and privileged at the same time. Privilege can be hard to decipher on your own, and that’s why it’s essential to listen and remain open-minded to people who experience oppression. When you learn about the ways privilege has existed in your life, you may think, “This isn’t a privilege; this is just basic human decency.” You’re absolutely right! The point is, not everyone is treated that way, and that’s why it is privilege.

The checklist below gives some examples of the different kinds of privilege people can have. This is not a comprehensive list; meaning, it doesn’t detail all the different ways in which oppressed people suffer. These are just examples to get you thinking about all the different ways privilege plays a role in your life.

 White race, ethnicity, and culture privilege

☐ I don’t feel threatened by the police.

☐ I have never been followed in a store because someone was suspicious of me.

☐ People don’t ask me to speak on behalf of my entire race.

☐ I don’t worry about going to prison unless I commit a serious crime.

☐ My race is widely represented in the media.

☐ I don’t really think about my race or ethnicity.

☐ People know how to pronounce my name, and I have never been perceived as a threat because of my name.

Cisgender privilege

☐ I can use public restrooms and locker rooms without fear of verbal abuse or assault.

☐ People know how to refer to me without asking first.

☐ I do not have to worry that my gender expression will make people around me uncomfortable.

☐ I have the ability to walk through the world and blend in, without being whispered about, pointed at, or laughed at because of my gender expression.

☐ If I go to the hospital, I do not have to worry that my gender will keep me from receiving appropriate treatment.

☐ I am able to purchase clothes that I like without being refused service or mocked by staff.

☐ I am legally recognized as a gender.

Male/male passing privilege

☐ I can walk the streets without the threat of sexual harassment.

☐ I am not expected to spend a lot of time and money on my appearance. 

☐ People do not make unsolicited comments about my body.

☐ I am not shamed if I choose not to spend a lot of time and money on my appearance. 

☐ When I speak up, my opinions are heard and respected equally to other people’s.

☐ I can assert myself and set boundaries without being called “drama queen,” “hysterical,” “bitch” or someone attributing it to “my time of the month.” 

☐ I do not have to fear sexual violence.

☐ At work, I don’t often have to worry about harassment from customers, coworkers, or bosses.

☐ I don’t have to worry about being perceived as sexual because of my clothes or body.

Straight privilege

☐ I have never had to hide or reveal my sexuality.

☐ I receive public recognition or support of my romantic relationships.

☐ There are role models of my sexual orientation and accurate representations of people with whom I can identify.

☐ I don’t have to research whether or not my sexuality is legal when choosing travel destinations.

☐ I can safely and comfortably hold hands and kiss my partner in public without fear of hostile or violent reactions. 

☐ People don’t ask me how I have sex or how I could have children.

☐ I have never had to “come out” to strangers who make assumptions about my sexuality. 

☐ I can easily find a neighborhood in which people will accept me.

☐ If I raise, adopt, or teach children, no one will assume that I will somehow force them into my sexuality.

Religious privilege

☐ I can expect to have time off school or work to celebrate religious holidays.

☐ I can worship freely without worry of violence or threats.

☐ Music and television programs related to my religious holidays are readily available.

☐ I am never asked to speak on behalf of all members of my faith.

☐ I can go into any career without it being associated or explained by my faith.

☐ When I practice religious customs, I am not questioned, mocked, or inhibited.

☐ I have never been called a “terrorist” because of my faith.

Thin privilege

☐ I can go to the doctor and have my symptoms taken seriously without being prescribed weight loss.

☐ People don’t assume that I am lazy or unhealthy because of my size.

☐ I can comfortably sit in movie theater seats, airplane seats, etc. without thinking about it.

☐ I can find clothing I like in my size for reasonable prices.

☐ Strangers do not comment, laugh, or whisper about my body.

☐ The media doesn’t describe my body shape as part of an “epidemic.”

☐ I can eat what I want in public and not have others make assumptions about my eating habits.

☐ I don’t feel pressure from family and friends to change my body size through diets or dangerous surgeries. 

☐ If I choose to love myself, people don’t tell me I’m promoting an unhealthy lifestyle.

Non-disabled privilege

☐ I easily move through public spaces without any pre-planning.

☐ I do not have to worry about people being uncomfortable because of my disability.

☐ People do not talk down to me, use patronizing language, or offer unsolicited help for tasks.

☐ I can succeed in situations without other people being surprised by that success or using the word “despite.”

☐ People don’t make fun of me because of my ability.

☐ People don’t get frustrated when I need to try something again or ask for clarity.

☐ There are ample role models of my ability to whom I can aspire

Economic privilege

☐ I have knowledge and access to community resources. 

☐ I have access to transportation that will get me where I need to go.

☐ My decision to go or not to go to college wasn’t entirely based on financial determinants.

☐ Whenever I moved out of my home, it was voluntary, and I had another home to move into.

☐ People do not assume I am unintelligent based on the dialect I grew up speaking.

☐ I can go to the supermarket and buy all the healthy foods I want.

☐ I can update my wardrobe with new clothes to match current styles and trends.

☐ When I advocate my class to politicians, I do not have to worry about being seen as looking for a handout.

☐ The schools I’ve attended had updated textbooks and computers.

All in all, you might feel uncomfortable acknowledging your privilege. That’s okay. Though you didn’t choose your privilege, you can choose to challenge the systems that keep people oppressed. Being open to these uncomfortable conversations is a great first step in recognizing adversity and overcoming injustice. The core of our mission is to help all students as they navigate their path to college and career success, regardless of where they started. We stand behind the belief that education is the foundation for creating a better tomorrow. 

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