a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most:Beyond is the key word. If you are fully enjoying the rights, immunities, and benefits provided under our constitution and sets of laws, then you are not privileged but rather “baseline”. Privilege comes when you, for any reason, have extra rights, immunities, or benefits.
If you are for any reason being kept from fully enjoying those rights, immunities, and benefits, then you are the opposite of privileged, operating under the baseline. The word most often used to describe this situation is under-privileged but I would argue that in this case disenfranchised makes more sense. Why? Because it is assumed that if you are not under-privileged, you are “privileged” and that is not necessarily the case. All of us who exist at the baseline are also under-privileged in the sense that we do not enjoy any rights, immunities, or benefits beyond the basics afforded to us by our laws.
Continuing on, if you are being denied a basic right and I am not, that makes you disenfranchised but it does not elevate me to a status of privileged. This is where I see the arguments for privilege in general breaking down. For example, if you are not cisgendered and are harassed for using a public restroom that does not match your physical makeup, that does not make me automatically privileged because I am cisgendered and do not suffer said harassment for using a bathroom that does line up with my physical makeup.
In other words privilege, baseline, and disenfranchisement are not necessarily a zero sum game. You experiencing discrimination does not make me privileged for not. If I was sexually abused and you were not, that does not make you privileged. If I got accepted only into a state university but you, with similar grades, had your dad call his friend, the president of Harvard, to get you accepted there, then you are privileged.
There is another definition of privilege that pertains to this discussion:
any of the rights common to all citizens under a modern constitutional government.When using this definition it is much easier to ascribe the status of privileged to anyone in this country who is able to partake of the rights, immunities, and benefits afforded to us all in our constitution. This status of privileged is citizen specific, not skin color related.
However, because the set of rights, immunities, and benefits that exists in the USA was not completely equal for all people from the get-go (and still is not), systems and cultural attitudes (stereotypes) arose that disenfranchised various groups of people. For example, there was a time when women and African Americans did not have the privilege of voting. In order to justify this, narratives concerning intelligence and emotional stability were created. While we now have the right to vote, the stereotypes that were created to support disenfranchising these two groups of people have not dissipated. For example, think back to when Hillary Clinton was running in the presidential primaries. Messaging was developed based on the “emotionally unstable” stereotype. For a couple hundred years, the systems in place have neglected to include non-white examples (and where applicable, female, GLBT, non-ablebodied, etc) in an equal way. This is slowly being rejected and fixed.
And when it is finally fixed, we will all be baseline under the first definition of privileged and equally accessing our privileges under the second. And yes, there will still be those who truly are privileged by their wealth, fame, or position.
Responses to some of the thoughts raised in the comments on my last post:
To some degree I think our differences have to do with how we define privilege. I do not agree that if I am able to participate in the set of rights, immunities, and benefits afforded to all US citizens that I am privileged. In my mind, that makes me baseline. Having the “rules work for me” doesn’t make me privileged. Having the “rules not work” for someone non-white does make them disenfranchised and we all need to be cognizant of that and working to change it. To insist that my white skin has brought me benefits beyond the basic rights and opportunities that I was born into, assumes that there have been racists in my life who have promoted me above someone non-white who was better suited or more qualified than I. (Jisun, that is where I thought you were going with your first comment but I saw in your follow up that you did not mean that.)
As for judging books by their covers, I would agree that happens due to the stereotypes I talked about in this post. Is that wrong? Yes, and each one of us needs to continue working to change it. Does it automatically make me white privileged? The answer to that is situational. Sometimes stereotypes work for you and sometimes against you. Take this scenario: there are 4 people in a corporate technology office, a male African American, me, a female Asian, and a male Indian, and a new boss, who knows none of us personally, walks in looking to make a snap judgement on who is the hardest working, smartest person to do a special project. I likely would not be the one chosen.