The Privilege Lie

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I’ve said it myself. I’ve read it a hundred times. You’ve probably heard it, or said it yourself. It usually goes something like, “We’re not asking you to give up your privileges. We’re trying to grant access to others who don’t have them.”

Or a pie analogy: “Privilege isn’t like pie. You don’t have to give up your slice for others to enjoy it.”

The idea behind these sentiments is that the goal of social justice is not to take privileges away from the “privileged” and give them to the “oppressed” (an unhelpful binary).

When we list privileges (e.g., male privileges, cisgender privileges, Christian privileges) and ask people to “check their privilege,” we say we’re not asking them to give anything up.

Instead, we say that the goal is for everyone to have access to those privileges.

We say this, usually, as a defense to [privileged] people pushing back against our goals.

And it’s a lie. A well-intentioned lie, but a lie nonetheless.

To oversimplify, privilege shows up in two ways: ways society is organized to give you advantages, and ways you aren’t penalized for who you are.

Everything that falls into the first bucket only exists in contrast to not having it.

If white-ness is how you got your job, or male-ness is why your opinion is received as fact, or straight-ness is why your parental fitness is unquestioned, then a socially just world is one where your job, opinion, parenthood, and more aren’t granted based on those identities. Where your advantage is taken away.

Is that equity? And justice? And a world I want to build? Absolutely.

But it’s also one where a lot of people no longer hold privileges they currently do. We need to be honest about that.


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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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