Privilege is defined as a special right, advantage, or protection, which is only available to some people, or groups of people.
In the context of race relations, Peggy McIntosh’s ground breaking 1988 essay ‘White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack’ identified privilege as an invisible force that needs to be acknowledged.
It recognised that having privilege does not mean you have had an easy life. Nor does it mean you haven’t had to work hard for your achievements: it just means your skin colour or ethnic background was not one of the barriers you had to overcome.
Specific examples of how privilege plays out in our society include:
- Turning on the television and seeing people of your race widely represented.
- Moving through life without being racially profiled or unfairly stereotyped.
- Walking into a store and finding that the main displays of shampoo and band aids cater to your hair type and skin tone.
- Not needing to prove you are part of the organisational culture of your workplace.
There are many forms of privilege including race, sex, ability, and socioeconomic status. Acknowledging privilege is about recognising that the systems and institutions of our society are designed from the perspectives of those from certain groups, and not others.