Edward Loveall

Quantifying Privilege

Here’s an interesting thought exercise. Of the following list, consider if you identify with the left side or the right side:

Male                    Female; Intersex
Cisgender               Transgender; Other non-cis genders
Heterosexual            LGBTQ+
Middle or Upper class   Working class; Poverty
White                   Person of color; Multi-racial
Age 30–50               Younger; Older
Attended college        High school only
Protestant; Catholic    Other religion; Atheist
US Citizen              Non-US Citizen; Immigrant; Undocumented
Able-bodied             Living with a disability; AIDS/HIV
Accepted body weight    Thinner; Fatter

This is a list of dominant (left) and non-dominant identities (right). People with these characteristics are portrayed the most in movies, celebrated in culture, serving in politics, and running businesses. Identifying with something on the left is a piece of privilege that you have. Identifying with something on the right is a piece of adversity you face.

I personally identify with almost every category on the left. The exception being that I grew up Unitarian Universalist, but even that is descendant from Christianity so I’m on the fence there at best.

Now, this is a very US-centric list. In other parts of the world you’d be an outlier for being White, or Catholic, or a US citizen. My audience here is largely from the US and similar countries however, so this list is most likely relevant to you. These are also many other ways a person can identify. Some omissions: being housed or not; having a history of imprisonment; recovering/suffering from a disease or addiction. I’m sticking with this list for this post because it covers a lot of cultural ground, and I think it illustrates the points well. Please feel free to modify it for your surroundings.

There’s a good chance that some of you reading this identify with something on the right side, too. Maybe you were fat in high school, or you’re Jewish, or you never went to college.

Whatever it is for you, I’ll bet that you think about those non-dominant identities way more than the dominant ones. Being teased or bullied for being fat in high school is more memorable than the times you weren’t ridiculed. Every time the Jewish High Holidays roll around, you have explain why you need some days off, while everyone assumes no one is coming in on Christmas and New Year’s. During every interview you have to justify why you don’t have a college degree.

Think about the opposite though. If you do have a college degree no one asks you why. If you’re Christian, you don’t have to explain what that means. If you’re a middling weight, no one even brings it up.

Understanding this contrast having a dominant identity and a non-dominant one has really expanded my empathy. It greatly weighs on someone if they identify with something or multiple somethings on the non-dominant side. Both sides are not equivalent. The life experience of a White person is “just life.” The life experience of a Black person is filled with bias against them, code switching, micro aggressions, and worse. Imagine what life might be like for a queer Black Muslim woman.

It’s also helped me realize just how much privilege I have. The idea that I have privilege is not new to me, and I believed people when they said it! But this helped quantify it in a way I had never understood. I hope this helps you quantify your own privilege, and better understand the adversity that others face.