*The Allyship Workshop Series was created in house at Stand Up Speak Up by a small team of writers and researchers with the consultation of several sensitivity readers. We present this information as an invitation to learn along with us and do not claim to be experts on the topic of allyship and advocacy. If you have any questions or concerns about anything you see in this workshop, please let us know. We hope this workshop will evolve as we continue to listen and become better allies.*
Definition of Privilege
“Privilege, simply put, is societally granted, unearned advantages accorded to some people and not others. Generally, when we talk about privilege, we are referring to systemic or structural advantages that impact people based on identity factors such as race, gender, sex, religion, nationality, disability, sexuality, class, and body type. We might also include level of education and other factors of social capital under the umbrella of privilege.”
Privilege is intersectional, meaning that most of us experience some sort of privilege in our lives and have lived with the benefits that come with us while experiencing discrimination or prejudice because of a separate facet of our identity.
For example, a white woman in her 50s, who grew up and currently lives in a middle-class neighborhood, would have advantages of race and class but likely experiences barriers, ranging from discrimination at work to a higher risk of assault, because she is a woman. Factors like her appearance and size, her religion, her sexual orientation and her education status could also affect her in positive or negative ways.
Intersectionality is a term coined by professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 to describe how different characteristics, traits or identities can intersect or overlap. It was mostly used in legal settings until recently, and is often misunderstood in its intentions, as some feel it is being used to shift the hierarchy of privilege by allowing those who have been marginalized in the past to take a new position at the top. But, in reality, the goal of discussing concepts like this is to dismantle any systems of hierarchy and privilege all together, allowing us all to exist as equals.
If you would like to learn more about intersectionality, Kimberlé Crenshaw and her continued work, read the intersectionality wars by Jane Coaston for Vox. Here is a short excerpt:
“Intersectionality was a prism to bring to light dynamics within discrimination law that weren’t being appreciated by the courts,” Crenshaw said. “In particular, courts seem to think that race discrimination was what happened to all black people across gender and sex discrimination was what happened to all women, and if that is your framework, of course, what happens to black women and other women of color is going to be difficult to see.”
Wheel of Power and Privilege
To further understand how different identities can overlap, illustrator Sylvia Duckworth created this Wheel of Power and Privilege. This was developed from the Canadian Council for Refugee’s Power Wheel. With this, you are able to see a number of different sectors of privilege and how you can experience a high level of privilege in one, but still experience the setbacks of another:
From this, the most important detail is to remember that privilege exists on a range of spectrums and is different for each person. Examining and discovering your own privilege will come for looking at your position within a number of different groups, systems and societal hierarchies. While you might be in the highest position of power in one, you might be in the lowest in another. Understanding your privileges and those areas where you lack privilege might help you navigate when you can use your position to achieve change and might ignite your passion and fight when it comes to deciding on areas of advocacy that are important to you.