We live in a society where our founding documents say that we are all created equal. However, in our day-to-day lives, people are overtly or covertly discriminated against based on differences such as race or ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, gender identity, ability, age, etc. This discrimination affects people in every area of their lives, including feelings about themselves and their intimate relationships. It also puts people in power hierarchies — giving some privilege and oppression to others.
Understanding Privilege and Oppression
Understanding privilege and oppression can be a theoretical exercise as well as a personal exploration. While it might be painful, for our society to change it is important that you understand how privilege and oppression personally affect you and the people you love.
Let’s start with some definitions:
- Oppression occurs when a society — where prejudice and institutional power combine — creates and enforces societal differences. This enforcement robs a segment of the population of their rights. It also limits their freedom, and frequently prevents access to essential resources such as education, housing, employment and health care. Additionally, people in oppressed groups may be monitored, policed, jailed and/or diagnosed by mental health practitioners differently than people in the dominant group. They are more likely to be seen through the lens of stereotypes instead of being seen as a full person.
- Privilege is when you have some kind of advantage over others — simply because of the way you fit in well with dominant culture . When someone is privileged, they are given advantages based on their race, gender, skin color, sexual identity, etc. Frequently, they don’t see or acknowledge these privileges. Instead, they assume to have earned them, and that anyone can have them if they work hard enough.
Privileges Often Beget Other Privileges
The examples of how privilege begets privilege are often overlooked because they are so ingrained in our society. For instance — if you are wealthy, you are likely to have had the privilege of a better education (educational privilege).