Understanding Identity Privilege

A lot of people have it but few understand what it is exactly.

Having a discussion about the privilege of any kind can be a tricky topic to enter into. Certainly, most people don’t like the idea that they have some sort of inherent privilege, and even acknowledging it can be triggering. However, it should be a goal for everyone to get to a point where they can better understand privilege, its impact on daily living, and how to deconstruct the topic in a non-offensive manner. Simply acknowledging something that clearly exists can be a good first step to becoming a more caring and understanding person in general.


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What Identity Privilege Is and Isn’t

A good starting point in better understanding privileged identities can be looking at societal non-written rules. For example, if a certain group of people who share an identity is not comfortable doing something specific, then it’s a good idea to look further into why that is.

A lot of people have this sense of “we are all human” and as such our differences don’t matter. That in and of itself is a privileged view to have. Everyone has disadvantages and things they struggle with in their life. But it matters if those disadvantages come from your identity or simply your situation. Historically, certain groups of people have always been advantageous by law, to begin with. Women weren’t even allowed to vote until 1920 in America. When one group of people has something accessible or given to them by virtue of existing as who they are, whereas another group has that very thing denied by that same virtue; that’s the definition of privilege.

Having a privileged identity does not mean that you will absolutely get far in life or succeed in any way just because of it. It merely means that you have certain paths open to you that other people don’t. Not because of merit but because you are who you are. If you’re putting your headphones on and going out for a run to clear your mind after dark, then you should, at the very least, be aware that not everyone can do that. Our differences matter because we make them matter. Having basic human rights taken away from you is not a very good feeling. Even less, you know you’re not privileged when you constantly hear everyone, on TV or street or family gatherings, talk about your existence as a point of debate.


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Education, Acceptance, and Change

The best way to do something about making it more equal and fair for everyone is through education. There’s no denying that at the root of every form of bigotry is ignorance. A good number of people either don’t know about the privilege that they carry in their everyday life or are strangely offended once you bring the topic up.

Simply mentioning the fact that some identities offer privileges that others don’t is NOT saying that your hard work or worth as a person was pre-determined. You can have all the identity privilege in the world and still fail to achieve anything you consider worthy in life. So, if you’ve gotten anywhere worthy of celebrating then you should be proud of yourself. Just don’t dismiss people when they state to you that a person of a different background would have possibly had an even tougher road to get to where you are. Listening is such an important skill to have and it needs practice just like empathy does. It might cause discomfort but getting everyone to see the world for what it actually has long been overdue.


If you’re thinking that this is all a little too much to chew on all at once, just remember that for some people learning about the injustice of any kind is not optional. We all have our part to play in making Earth a better and fairer place to exist for everyone. You’re never too young or too old to start listening, learning, speaking up, and taking action against injustice.


Photo: Khosro/shutterstock


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