Racism is not about people of colour, sexism is not about women, homophobia is not about gay people, transphobia is not about the trans community, etc. I could solve the world’s equity issues instantly if I could convince white, cis, hetero, men to give up their power and give it to the people who deserve it.
Privilege is an advantage; actually, it’s more the lack of disadvantage endowed for having characteristics and/or traits.
Have a go, see how many facets you feel that you may or may not be oppressed through.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list:
1. Race (White privilege)
2. Sexuality (Hetero privilege)
3. Gender ascription (Cis privilege)
4. Gender (Male privilege)
5. Colour (lighter privilege)
6. Class (middle-class privilege)
7. Language (Native English speaking)
8. Credentialed /Non-literate (Education privilege)
9. Religious affiliation.
This diagram gives even more examples.
Privilege is the concept that you are given an advantage for having the perceived above traits. This is akin to walking down the street and people slipping money into your pockets. Zeus Leonardo (further reading at the bottom) goes a step further and questions where that extra money actually comes from.
You may think that this is a little unfair as people did not choose the colour of their skin, gender, etc. I agree, lamenting over this what people are born with is futile. However, we should all remember that we are not only afforded these privileges but we are involved in the same privileges being taken from the oppressed.
We should look at privilege as a zero-sum game. This means we are afforded opportunities because other people are disadvantaged. As a result by simply existing in a privileged group, you are complicit in the oppression of others. This is uncomfortable, being knowingly or unknowingly complicit the result is the same. I am not writing this to elicit guilt but action a means that it’s our responsibility to redress the balance.
I have met hundreds of well-meaning people who have often suggested and attempted to create a hierarchy of the different types of oppression. For example:
‘Black men are more oppressed than white women.’
If your vision is live in a fair equitable society (or to end oppression), I would direct you this quote by Audre Lorde,
“I am not free while any women is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
Compartmentalising and then pitting characteristics directly against each other is not just pointless, it’s divisive. The aim here should be to level the playing field for everyone. After all, all oppression is *intersectional*.
What is Intersectionality?
Intersectionality can be made extremely complex. Put simply, everyone’s journey is made up of different lines of oppression and privilege these intersect to describe the greater picture. For example; yes, on one hand, I am a person of colour, but on the other, I am also a cis hetero man which makes my journey very different from the journey of a trans, gay, woman of colour (and distinctly different from black/indigenous experience). This complexity is sometimes used as a fogging technique, it is so complicated there is nothing we can do about it.
The term was originally coined in this paper, 30 years ago, by Kimberle Crenshaw.
She echos my above sentiments when asked:
Q: You originally coined the term intersectionality to describe bias and violence against black women, but it’s become more widely used—for LGBTQ issues, among others. Is that a misunderstanding of intersectionality?
Crenshaw: Intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects. It’s not simply that there’s a race problem here, a gender problem here, and a class or LBGTQ problem there. Many times that framework erases what happens to people who are subject to all of these things.
Some people look to intersectionality as a grand theory of everything, but that’s not my intention. If someone is trying to think about how to explain to the courts why they should not dismiss a case made by black women, just because the employer did hire blacks who were men and women who were white, well, that’s what the tool was designed to do. If it works, great. If it doesn’t work, it’s not like you have to use this concept.
The other issue is that intersectionality can get used as a blanket term to mean, “Well, it’s complicated.” Sometimes, “It’s complicated” is an excuse not to do anything.
Flipping the narrative, oppression depends on a lot of different characteristics and traits and understanding that must include recognition of intersectionality.
Privilege, in exactly the same way, is also intersectional. I did not earn the advantages or power that come with being able-bodied, cis, heterosexual, male. However, I certainly do benefit from them. Their shackles may be very different from my own but they are shackles none the less. So, as a man, it is my duty to support women in their systemic struggle, as a cis man it’s my responsibility to support trans women, etc.
This is redressing the balance; giving back power to the people who deserve it.
Warning: Checking your Privilege.
As privilege can only flow along the veins as power. From men to women, from white to black, etc.
When someone asks you to examine your power or to ‘check your privilege’ your response should be to tell that person you need to reflect and you’ll return with a response. Then you have real work to do. Analyse your own actions. Remember your analysis must include the contextual historic legacy of power/colonialism.
Well-meaning people often fall into the trap of lecturing/dictating the oppressed. Remember you are in guest in a world you cannot understand or experience. All actions should come with the recognition of privilege first and foremost.
How does this impact in the Classroom and Schools?
When I have worked with schools, on decolonisation of the curriculum, I have used the 3 c’s model and privilege falls into all 3.
Which will flow into the ‘content’ of their curriculum. Then finally to certify. Certifying, ask us as educators to empower our pupils to challenge (respectfully and democratically) the world and power structures in society around them.
Where ‘challenge’ is equipping teachers/teaching staff to confront the hierarchy of power within their classroom by interrogating their own lens.
As educators do we teach an awareness of the societal power structure in our lessons? Do we give all pupils a fair representation of the world we live in? If that isn’t reason enough in January 2019 implicit/explicit character education curriculum was including into the OfSTED framework.
Personally, I find it hard to see, how the virtues below can achieve without the recognition of societal power.
As educators, have we considered the content of the curriculum? I have written about decolonising the curriculum here. More than that have we, as educators, ever considered the philosophy of education and ontology/epistemology we propagate?
Yes, that sounds complicated. When teaching maths in primary school and we ask pupils to measure objects, do we teach pupils that in certain realms there are definite answers, absolute truths (positivism in the natural sciences) and in all others, the answers are dependent on who you are (postpositivism).
No matter what you think about the content of the above stories. The educators of these pupils should take a bow. It is the job of educators to empower our young people to make the world a better place for their generation and the generations that come after them. Teaching pupils about power is the first step in this endeavour. For this to happen this must be incorporated into the day to day of a school and this is every educator responsibility.
Zeus Leonardo (2004) The Color of Supremacy: Beyond the discourse of ‘white privilege’, Educational Philosophy and Theory, 36:2, 137-152, DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-5812.2004.00057.x