How (Not) To Use a Privilege List

The Privilege Lists that I’ve published here have been downloaded over 100 million times cumulatively. I share this because it’s cool to say (big number!), but also because that reach has allowed me to see these lists used in a variety of ways: some good, some neutral, and some downright harmful.

The ways to use a privilege list are innumerable, and the creativity I’ve witnessed has been astounding. As a tool, they can be transformative.

So instead of using this space to advocate for ways I encourage using the lists, it’ll be easier to write few quick “Please Don’t Do This” bullets:

  • Please don’t use privilege lists to shame people for the identities they possess. Read up on shame and guilt from Brené Brown for more clarity on how this might look, and why it isn’t helpful.
  • Please don’t use privilege lists in a way that requires folks without privilege to become educators of those with privilege. Some activities (e.g., Privilege Walks, Crossing the Line), or other formats of discussion, push the least privileged people in the room onto a soapbox to be spokespeople for life without privilege. This can be, and often is, harmful.
  • Please don’t use privilege lists in a way that makes the privileges seem immutable. The idea of this tool is that it’s unjust that we have a system that rewards certain ways of being, and punishes or ignores others. These are lists that include items that should (and hopefully can) be expanded to people of all identities. They shouldn’t be privileges, but rights. Create room for this growth, or evolution, in the ways you use the tool.

When in doubt, consult your Social Justice Compass and ask: “Will how I’m using this lead us toward equity? Or somewhere else?”


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About the Author

Sam Killermann Self Portrait

Hi! I'm Sam Killermann. I'm the author of A Guide to Gender: The Social Justice Advocate's Handbook, and I was featured in Katie Couric's NatGeo documentary "Gender Revolution". I created It's Pronounced Metrosexual in 2011. I write everything here and doodle the doodles myself. Bonus: everything I create is uncopyrighted and freely accessible — I even coded (& open-sourced) this site itself, my gift to you. Read More →

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