The Dimensions of Privilege

Chiara said she was frustrated after hearing a “public intellectual” speak to her class last night.  While some of his ideas were interesting, she said, there was no analysis of how privilege allowed him to have the life and work that he does.   He also didn’t seem to have any vision for a future where people without traditional privilege could participate as public intellectuals or cultural makers.

After her class, a classmate told Chiara that his parents helped pay his rent and that their support allowed him to attend school and live the lifestyle that he had.  In a similar conversation, a friend told me that parental support made it viable for him to make touring and playing music a big part of his life.

Disparities in privilege are a big deal, but can easily become a discourse that doesn’t go anywhere.  People with privilege often seem to get uncomfortable because they feel that exposing their privilege undermines the value or integrity of their work, beliefs or lifestyles.  The division of identities between privileged people and unprivileged people leaves little space for more complex experiences.  People who lacked economic resources but had other social capitol seem forced to pick sides, either ignoring experiences with poverty or fixating on it.

I’m interested in trying to understand how privilege works and find narratives of “I like my life and I’m able to lead it because of X, Y, and Z.” really helpful.  I just want the way privilege works to be transparent, without getting mired in analysis, guilt, or judgement.  I don’t want to define privilege, but want people to define it for themselves in their experience.

If you’re willing to talk to me about your experience of having privilege, hit me up.

Photo by Nicole Kibert /