Privilege & Power – Let’s Talk About It

People have a way of conflating ideas to fit a certain narrative, and that’s never a good idea, especially when tackling something as serious and invasive as oppression. A common mistake that I’ve seen is the conflation of power and privilege as if they are one in the same. Again, this is a common mistake, I do it too sometimes, but it’s important to distinguish between the two. If you want to dismantle oppression, you must approach it correctly.

Let’s start with the fact that people find comfort in being passive, even when it comes to something that has a hold over their life. There’s a fear of being direct and active. It makes sense for the oppressed to be cautious, but it makes for an ineffective approach, it does absolutely nothing. This is why distinction is so importantThere’s absolutely no room for passiveness when tackling oppression, especially if your oppression is intersectional. You have to be active in your approach for dismantlement and you have to be direct, otherwise you’re setting yourself back. Power and privilege are not the same, they do not have the same effect, and are not wielded the same, they are distinctively different and therefore should be approached differently.

Privilege is the result of executed power.

When we conflate the two we end up discussing oppression on the basis of privilege disparity, while ignoring the presence of power, thus, absolving oppressors of culpability. This is why men don’t understand male privilege, this is why white people always bring up the fact that they didn’t own slaves, this is why cisgender heterosexual people feel the need to say they don’t “agree” with the LGBTQ community, because we focus on their privilege instead of the institutional power. 

Because of the institutional and systemic power that is rooted in patriarchy, men are provided a privilege that is inherent within their manhood.

Because of the institutional and systematic power that is rooted in white supremacy, white people are provided a privilege that is inherent within their race (whiteness).

Because of the institutional and systemic power that is rooted in cis-heteronormativity it has provided a privilege that is inherent within any cisgender heterosexual person.

Power begets privilege, the two are not the same.

When we anchor our analysis of oppression in privilege disparity, we center the individual oppressor, that’s passive, but when we anchor our analysis in institutional and systematic / systemic power, we prove how systems of oppression actively suppress the marginalized without obfuscating the reality of oppression, that’s active. I’m not saying don’t call people out on their privilege, I’m saying understand what privilege is. It is a result of executed power at the expense of either yourself, or others, mislabeling power for privilege does nothing for the analysis of oppression. It sounds good to constantly yell about white privilege, male privilege, cis privilege, but through the lens of dismantlement, it means nothing at the end of the day.

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When you make note of privilege, ensure that your discussion is anchored in the power that created that privilege. That’s how you actively call out oppressors, prove that you and others are oppressed, and ensure that agents of power are held accountable. Their privilege can be used to actively dismantle systems of oppression, but only if they understand that their privilege is inherent to them and constantly reinforced by way of executed power either by them or others like them, and that makes them culpable.

They are recipients of privilege, but agents of power.

Instead of focusing on “White privilege” focus on “The evolution of white supremacy that produces privilege…”

Instead of focusing on “Cisgender privilege” focus on “Cis-heteronormative systemic power that creates privilege…”

It is not a question of what men can do with their male privilege, it’s a question of how patriarchal indoctrination has awarded men that privilege.

I understand the conflation, when you’re in the situation, you speak on what you see, you see a white person getting over on a black or brown person, you see a man degrading a woman, you see a cishet person being openly homophobic or transphobic, you see privilege. It makes sense to call it out, but if your goal is to dismantle and educate, anchor your discussion and your analysis in power.

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