If you have gone through diversity and inclusion training at your workplace, watched discussions on TV about inequality or disparity of any kind, or come across articles on these issues on your timeline on social media, chances are, you have come across the word “privilege”. Privilege has been researched and written about extensively, with the focus primarily being on perceptions of privilege and separately, on socio-economic and health outcomes associated with certain social groups being privileged compared to others. However, there’s been relatively little research on understanding how it affects all of us psychologically.
What is social privilege?
In the academic literature, there is wide consensus that privilege encompasses 5 core components:
Types of privilege
Privilege was first studied in the race and gender contexts - male privilege or White privilege being the most commonly studied and cited instances. But we now know from extensive social, health, and economic research, that there are many types of social privilege. For example:
It is important to note too, that these types of privileges do not stand alone. One form may exist in conjunction with other forms of privilege (e.g. a White man who is from an upper socio-economic background, who is also able-bodied).
How does social privilege affect us all psychologically?
very far now”).
b) Distancing oneself from the privileged group (“White privilege is a thing, but I grew up really poor
and had more in common with struggling immigrants”).
However, people from socially privileged groups are also known to engage in this third strategy that is positive in nature.
c) Dismantling strategies (“Heteronormative privilege makes people of diverse genders and
sexualities feel marginal, which is why we need to support anti-discrimination laws and marriage
If reckoning with social privilege is associated with all these negative psychological experiences, why bother dealing with it? Can’t we just focus on working towards a better future for all of us?
Difficult as it is to deal with the social privileges we have accrued, it has a range of important social and relational benefits! There is strong research evidence showing that for those of us who push through the discomfort of acknowledging our social privilege and the illegitimacy of it, especially in contexts where inequality and disadvantage are being discussed, we are more likely to accurately perceive instances of discrimination and disparity and forge meaningful and supportive relationships with diverse people who may not come from socially privileged groups. Further, acknowledging our privilege goes a long way in being perceived as trustworthy and supportive on issues of inequality. So it appears, that as with most things in life, effectively confronting the consequences of social privilege, requires sitting through the unpleasantness of it not avoidance of the issue.
- By Tulsi Achia
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