Inclusive Language Series: Privilege & Oppression

Privilege (n.): A right, license, or exemption from duty or liability granted as a benefit, advantage, or favor.

Oppression (n.): The consequences from and the use of institutional or social power and privilege of one person or group when benefiting at the expense and as a result of the domination or subjugation of another person or group. It is the product of power and prejudice.

Privilege and oppression should not be viewed as binary opposites. While it is true that singular identities can be considered privileged or oppressed, we have to keep in mind the complex nature of identity. Namely, that many identities are dynamic and change over time, identities can be perceived differently depending on the social environment, and that our individual identities intersect to create unique lived experiences that cannot be classified solely as privileged or oppressed.

To simplify these terms, privilege can be viewed as unearned advantages, while oppression can be viewed as unfair disadvantages.

For example:

Abby grew up in a middle/upper-middle class suburban neighborhood with access to high quality public education. As a result, she was able to take a variety of Advanced Placement courses, which she earned transferrable credit, and her high school counselor referred her to multiple full-ride scholarships.

Sophie grew up in an impoverished community without access to high quality education. As a result, her high school counselor did not connect her to scholarship opportunities, since going to college was not the norm for students at this school. Sophie ended up getting into college but was forced to finance her tuition through high interest student loans.

Let’s assume that Abby and Sophie were equally hard-working students. In this case, it should be clear to see the unearned advantages that Abby had access to as a result of her privileged socioeconomic status.

When talking about privilege and oppression, it is easy for folks who identify more with their privileged identities to disengage because of feelings like shame and remorse. Equally, folks with more oppressed identities can feel inclined to disengage due to feelings like frustration and anger. When discussing privilege and oppression we need to keep in mind that individual people are not to blame for the advantages or disadvantages we face. We all have to come together to critically analyze and reconstruct the larger systems and institutions at fault. Perhaps systemic oppression is a topic we will learn more about in a future article.

Upcoming Holidays & Observances

Feb 20th: Presidents Day, a federally recognized celebration in the United States that honors birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, as well as those of every US president.

Feb 21st: Mardi Gras, the last day for Catholics to indulge before Ash Wednesday starts the sober weeks of fasting that accompany Lent. The term “Mardi Gras” is particularly associated with the carnival celebrations in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Feb 21st: Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. Although named for its former religious significance, it is chiefly marked by feasting and celebration, which traditionally preceded the observance of the Lenten fast. It is observed by various Christian denominations.

Feb 22nd: Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent on the Christian calendar. Its name is derived from the symbolic use of ashes to signify penitence. It follows immediately after the excesses of the two days of Carnival that take place in Northern Europe and parts of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Feb 25th – March 1st: Intercalary Days or Ayyám-i-Há, celebrated by people of the Bahá’í faith. At this time, days are added to the Bahá’í calendar to maintain their solar calendar. Intercalary days are observed with gift-giving, special acts of charity, and preparation for the fasting that precedes the New Year.