Privilege: Preliminary Thoughts

I recently started college! During college orientation, my school held a discussion on diversity and privilege. We discussed the definition of privilege and its present-day practicality in small groups.

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, privilege is “a right or benefit that is given to some people and not to others”.

The following are models of privilege based on my interpretation of our discussion.

I use the following definitions in my models:

  • Advantages, which I define as a factor such as wealth, access to education, etc. that improves a person’s chances of succeeding in society, being healthy, enjoying life, etc.
  • Disadvantages, which I define as factors such as lack of wealth, lack of access to education, etc. that reduce a person’s chance of succeeding in society, being healthy, enjoying life, etc.
  • Normal, which I define as a descriptor for an average member of society, assuming we had access to all traits of the entire population of the society in question.

I describe how each model works using piggy banks!: 

1) Net Model (Comparison to average)

  • Premise: This model assumes that there is an average number of “advantages” that a “normal” person should have. This model assumes that a “normal” person is “entitled” to these advantages, and that a “privileged” person has more than the normal number of advantages. Disadvantages are counted as penalties against advantages.
  • How it works: Everyone has a piggy bank containing a certain amount of coins. Most people have an average amount of coins, representing the “normal” amount of privilege. Some people have more coins, representing more privilege than the average, while others have fewer coins, representing less privilege than the average.
  • Where privilege comes in: Being privileged means having more than the average amount of coins. This is calculated with the net amount of advantage after disadvantages are deducted.

 2) Absolute Model (Relative comparison) 

  • Premise: This model assumes that nobody is entitled to any advantages. Everyone starts out empty. Any advantages that a person gains in life are “filled in”, much like filling an empty pail with water.
  • How it works: Everyone starts with empty piggy banks, representing no advantages. Acquiring wealth, comfort, and other advantages, either at birth or later in life, adds coins to the piggy banks.
  • Where privilege comes in: Being privileged is only defined in the relative sense. It means having more advantages than someone else you are compared to.

 

The notion of privilege as an exclusive right holds true in both models.

Parts of our discussion that I found especially interesting and that I spent a lot of thought on when developing these models were what it meant to be “entitled” to certain privileges, and how the privileges had both relative and absolute importance.

It seems that life could be fairer if everyone had the same number of advantages. However, this would also mean less diversity. Is it worth the tradeoff? A balance probably needs to be established and continually adjusted, and how we determine and take steps towards creating that balance is something we should all consider.

3 thoughts on “Privilege: Preliminary Thoughts”

  1. You mention that if life was more fair there would be much less “diversity.” I’m curious to see a more expanded version of what that means in this context.

    Also, you mention that there should be a balance between how fair and unfair the world is in order to maintain a form of “diversity” in the world.

    If we assume that the world had the capabilities to make the world a completely “fair” state, where there exists no privilege, starvation, income inequality, racism, etc, wouldn’t you agree that a world like that is far better than the world we have today? Even if you don’t agree that the world should be this way, what can you say to the individuals who are underprivileged (starving, minorities, etc) who must suffer from your choice to make the world less fair in order to achieve more “diversity?”

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