Privilege is a special benefit, right or advantage granted to a person or group because of their position or wealth. The word comes from the Latin privilegium, which means law for one person.

What does privilege mean?

It is a right or a benefit that favors a single person or a specific group of people. These identities are often connected to wealth, status, education, age and race. 

For example: white wealthy males have historically had more power and privilege than individuals from other minority groups. 

What is often called “white privilege” refers to the advantages that white people enjoy because of their race, and that are not equally accessible to people of other racial identities.

Privilege is often unearned

It is oftentimes unearned in the sense that it bestows advantages and opportunities upon individuals or groups solely based on certain inherent characteristics or attributes. 

These advantages are granted by societal structures and power dynamics, and can manifest as social, economic, or systemic advantages.

It is not about merit

It is not about individual achievements or personal merit, but rather about the advantages accessible to certain groups based on their social and economic positioning. 

Even if a person from an underprivileged group should earn an advantageous job position, this isn’t a guarantee that they will actually be granted the rights that come with the job. Or at least, they will likely not be granted those rights and privileges to the same extent as a person from a dominant social group with the same job position.

It is important to understand it as a propelling factor for disparities and inequities that exist in society. This is a crucial step toward fostering empathy, understanding systemic injustices, and creating a more equitable and inclusive society.

Different types of privilege

It is expressed in many different ways and often depends on the circumstance of the privileged individual. Nevertheless, one can distinguish between five main types of privilege:

The interconnection of privilege

These different types of it are closely interconnected. It is important to understand the concept of privilege as a spectrum rather than a binary concept in order to recognize how it can both perpetuate systems of advantage and disadvantage.

It is not simply a “have” or “have not” dichotomy, but rather a multifaceted continuum that encompasses various dimensions and intersections of identity. 

Some everyday examples

Here are some examples of structural privilege in society:

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