Privilege: A right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor.
Dictionary definitions are fine for basic understandings and introductions, but when we discuss privilege in a social context, a basic understanding simply is not enough. Before we can delve into the truth of what social privilege is, first we have to dismantle a few misconceptions about what social privilege is not.
The concept of social privilege is not…
… a judgement of character on any person or group of people.
… a justification of abuse or intolerance towards any person or group of people.
… an assumption of life experience.
… a black and white - you have it or you do not - type of concept.
The concept of social privilege is not a judgement of character on any person or group of people. When the concept of social privilege is brought up in a relevant discussion, it is easy (and common) for the person(s) within the privileged class to form a defensive stance. Instead of being received as the statement of fact it truly is, the term “privilege” is often interpreted as an attack of character in the recipients mind. Take race as an example:
I am a white American: fact.
As a white American, I benefit from racial privilege in this country: fact.
Because I benefit from racial privilege, I am a bad person: not a fact.
When someone of color (or any individual) notes that I have racial privilege in the United States, more commonly noted as “white privilege”, they are not saying that I am a bad person. They are not casting judgement on my character or on me as an individual. They are simply pointing out a statement of fact that no one individual has control over.
The concept of social privilege is not a justification of abuse or intolerance towards any person or group of people. Using the same example of race, no one is saying that I deserve to be treated poorly because I happen to benefit from white privilege. Because privilege is out of our control as individuals, we are not more or less deserving of respect and basic decency due to our privileged status. This does not mean that all voices are equal, however, in context. As a white American, my voice should *not* carry the same weight as the voice of a person of color in a conversation about racial inequality - my racial privilege prevents me from having the same experiences that persons of color experience and, as such, my thoughts and opinions on racial inequality cant be -and shouldn't be expected to be- measured equally to those voices.
The concept of social privilege is not an assumption of life experience. A common misconception about social privilege is that the privileged persons have had an *easy* life. That is not the case. When I say “I have white privilege”, it doesn't mean that my life has been easy because of my skin color - it means that my life hasn't been made harder specifically because of my skin color. That distinction is incredibly important. Privilege is not an experience, but rather it is the absence of an experience. White Americans do not have the same racial experience that Americans of color do. Our privilege, by no fault of our own, has shielded us from that experience in a way that a lack of privilege, by no fault of individuals of color, has forced that same experience on generations of Americans with different skin tones. Privilege does not mean that your life has been easy. Privilege means that your life has not been made more difficult because of your skin color/gender/culture/religion etc.
The concept of social privilege is not a black and white - you have it or you do not - type of concept. As with most things involving humans, privilege is complicated. As pagans, we are all - religiously speaking - lacking privilege in America and in much of the world. But we are more than *just* pagans and each aspect of our social identity has it's own privilege scale. I have privilege because I am a white American, I am cisgender, and I have economic security. I lack privilege because I am queer, I am a woman, and I am neurodivergent. So am I privileged? Yes and no - it is all dependent on the specific context and often the answer is truly a light or dark grey, rather than a clear black and white. A common response to the topic of privilege is “I cant have white privilege, I am poor” - racial and economic privilege are two different things. In discussions about racial injustice or trans rights, I am within the privileged class, while in discussions about mental health or gender discrimination, I am not within the privileged class. Context is important.
So what is social privilege, then, and what does it have to do with the pagan community?
Social privilege is the lack of systematic adversity faced by individuals of higher social hierarchy compared to peers of lower social hierarchy. Pagans of all flavors experience systematic adversity because of religion in this country but Pagans can also be Male, female, intersex, non-binary, cis, trans, straight, gay, queer, etc. All of these different aspects (and more) of our identity influence how we see the world, how the world sees us, and how positive or negative our experiences are - and the pagan community is not exempt from that same system. Sexism, racism, transphobia, homophobia, etc - these all happen within our community and privilege is part of that conversation. We have a responsiblity to ourselves and to all who cross our paths to maintain a positive environment for individuals of all variance. By understanding the concept of social privilege and how it impacts those within our community, we are that much more equipped to foster a truly respectful and honorable environment.
This blog post was written by Karly Hicke (White River Secretary).
The White River Grove, ADF blog is written and maintained by individual members of the White River Grove. Any opinion expressed does not represent the ADF international or it's subsidiaries.