“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.”Former United Nations Secretary General and Nobel Peace Prize Winner
Yesterday, we looked at identity and systems of oppression in order to empower us to see ourselves across various contexts in which we live, work and play. Today, we will examine how our identities relate to privilege and power in order to maintain systems of oppression.
Privilege is unearned access or advantages granted to specific groups of people because of their membership in a social group. Privilege can be based on a variety of social identities such as race, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, ability status, sexuality, age, education level and more. Within the United States, members of social groups that hold privileges (white, male, wealthy, able-bodied, etc.) have historically held dominance and power over marginalized groups. (For some examples of what privilege looks like and more information on understanding privilege please see last year’s challenge day on Privilege.) The privileges (or lack thereof) afforded to us by our identities can also compound and have even further-reaching implications in systems of power. This concept of intersectionality will be explored in the coming days.
When discussing privilege, we need to also understand its relationship with power. The Center for Law and Social Policy defines Systems of Power as, “The beliefs, practices, and cultural norms on which individuals lives and institutions are built. They are rooted in the social constructions of race and gender and embedded in history (colonization, slavery, migration, immigration, genocide), present-day policies, and practice. These systems of power reinforce white supremacy, patriarchy, and heteronormativity as defining power structures in the United States…”
Power exists on personal, interpersonal and institutional levels, and could look like access to resources, positions to make decisions, visibility or validation. It’s important to note that every single person has personal power. We also have collective power when we work in groups, and this power can be against oppression or for it. Our membership within social identity groups (race/gender/age/etc.) influences the type of power we may have in society.
Today, we encourage you to examine your own history and experiences to understand how power, privilege and oppression have shown up in your life. Identifying privilege is the first step toward distributing that power to others and confronting systems that create inequity and injustice.