Articles & Essays

What Is Privilege? – Raja Halwani

We have in recent years gotten accustomed to hearing about various types of privilege that people have, such as white privilege, male privilege, and heterosexual privilege. People also now admonish those who have privilege to “check” their privilege, even though what this means is not entirely clear. Before we can discuss what “checking privilege” means, however, we need to have a good idea of what the concept of privilege itself means. I will offer in this post what I take to be a plausible definition of privilege, one that coheres with how the concept is used and is intended to be used. I will also argue that the concept does not refer to any new phenomena or play any important explanatory role when it comes to issues of social justice. I will argue that although it can be used to raise one’s consciousness about one’s position in regards various social issues (even though other concepts are also available for this purpose), its use by third parties to, for example, admonish someone to check their privilege, are best abandoned.

I- Definition of Privilege

(1) Whatever having privilege means, those who use this concept often have in mind specific groups of people with privilege. For instance, the group thought to be with the most privilege is the group of white, straight, abled, middle class or rich cismen (though the age is not clear). If a person belongs to this group, then he is at the top of the privilege pyramid, so to speak. White, straight, abled, middle class or rich ciswomen come next. And so on. In this regard, the concept of privilege is not meant to capture just any group whose members have privilege. For instance, being young has its advantages (vigor, optimism, agility, etc.), so belonging to the group “young people” is a privilege of sorts, yet it is not the kind of privilege that the concept is intended to include. This is because the groups have to be connected to issues of social justice, and simply being young (or old) is not as such related to that. Instead, privileged individuals are ones that are thought to benefit or have benefitted, due to their group membership, from an unjust social structure or system, such as sexism, racism, homophobia, and able-ism.

            (2) Moreover, the privilege in question is mostly social and political, not legal or even economic (though having or lacking social privilege could, and usually does, have economic consequences or be the result economic causes). This is not to deny that in the past some groups had legal privileges whereas others did not (e.g., only opposite-sex marriages were legal), but that the focus of the concept of privilege is social and political, as we will see in the examples below.

            (3) Because an individual can belong to various groups that are socially yet unjustly advantaged (e.g., white and straight),[1] privilege is intersectional. The more privileged groups to which one belongs, the more privilege one has. In this respect, some people (e.g., white, straight men) can have more privilege than others (e.g., white, gay men), depending on the groups to which they belong.

            (4) The concept of privilege is also intended to be general and social, not specific to particular contexts. For example, even if black basketball players might have more advantages than white basketball players in the context of the NBA,[2] black basketball players still lack general social privilege as black people (that their fame and stardom might soften the impact of not having privilege does not detract from the idea that in virtue of being black they lack privilege). Thus, those who think that in the context of the NBA black basketball players have privilege might be misapplying the concept of privilege as it is intended.[3] Indeed, since each of us easily belongs to some group that has advantages, each of us will have privilege in some respect. This is clearly, however, not the idea behind the concept. To repeat: privilege and its lack must connect to groups in their relation to issues of social justice and injustice.

With these four features in mind, let us ask what it means to claim that someone has privilege. In an essay entitled “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,”[4] Peggy McIntosh states that “I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious.” She provides a list of 50 examples such as going shopping without being followed or harassed (presumably by the store’s security), that her children will be given curricular materials that “testify to the existence of their race,” that she can rely on her skin color “not to count against the appearance of financial reliability,” that she can speak in public to a powerful male group without her race being “put on trial,” that she is “never asked to speak for all the people in [her] racial group,” that she can expect to see people of her own race represented on television and in history books, that she can travel without expecting to experience hostility by those who deal with her, and that she “will feel welcomed and ‘normal’ in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.”

McIntosh’s 50 examples illustrate four types of privilege.[5] The first and most dominant theme is the ease with which white people can move in and about the world, at least as compared to non-white people (examples #4, 5, 10*, 13, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23*, 25, 27, 30, 33, 34, 35, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 47, 48, 50).[6] The second is the idea of the ease of the availability of resources to white people that are not available, or not as easily available, to non-white people (examples #3, 8, 9*, 14, 24, 37, 38, 44, 46, 49). To see the difference between the two, consider a white person who goes into a store and who is treated well and politely by the cashier or the store workers. This is not about availability of resources, but about easily moving in and about the world without meeting unnecessary obstacles. Instead, not encountering curricular materials about your own culture or race (if you are not white) is an example of the unavailability of resources.

The third theme is that of finding people of one’s own race represented in various areas, such as the media or school curricula (examples #6, 7, 12, 24, 26, 45), and the fourth is additional burdens that people with privilege do not have to assume as a consequence of who they are or what they say or do (examples #15, 21, 28*, 29, 31, 32, 36, 40, 42). For instance, Example 15, which is about not having to educate one’s children about racism for their daily physical protection, is an additional burden on non-white people who do have to educate their children about this. As is clear, this fourth theme is distinct from the other three.

The “package of assets” to which McIntosh refers includes the above four. The package is also invisible, unearned, and the person who has it is “meant” to be oblivious to it. The package is invisible in that people who have it are not usually or consciously aware of it. Moreover, they are not “meant” to be aware of it. McIntosh places “meant” between quotation marks to presumably signal that although no actual person intended people with privilege to not be aware of the package, the system is “set up” or has evolved in such a way that those privileges are as invisible as possible to those who have them. The packages are unearned because being white does not, as such, entitle one to anything. You, as a white person, have not done anything to earn those privileges; they come with the territory of being white (in the context of racism).[7]

If McIntosh’s statement is intended to be a definition of “privilege,” then it does not succeed because it is too inclusive to be plausible.[8] That is, a definition should include those and only those packages that accrue to white people, whereas McIntosh’s statement of white privilege includes a lot more. Given that non-white people can have invisible and unearned packages that socially benefit them, and given that they can have resources more easily available to them than to others, they would also have white privilege! And given that white people can have unearned and invisible packages that have nothing to do with their whiteness, white privilege would include those as well, on McIntosh’s statement. To give an example of the former, African Americans and Cuban Americans have a whole set of legal privileges that non-citizens have, and these advantages are neither earned nor typically visible to those who have them. To give an example of the latter, some white people have unearned invisible privileges having nothing to do with their whiteness, such as having a sunny disposition, being healthy, and enjoying their hobbies, which are all privileges but have nothing to do with being white as such.[9] (The same examples can apply to non-whites, but the point is to illustrate how whites can have privileges that have nothing to do with their whiteness.) So what McIntosh offers is too general to be a definition.

Thus, because McIntosh has in mind only packages in virtue of being white, and because her characterization of white privilege is very broad, the characterization is not a definition (though it might be an adequate starting point).

Is the list of 50 examples sufficient to explain what privilege is? Can we do without a definition? No, because all the examples on the list can be captured by already-existing concepts other than privilege, which means that the examples have failed to illustrate what is unique about privilege. For instance, the ease of availability of resources for whites, the burdens on non-white people, and the lack of representation can be captured by that of racism: it explains the inequality that exists in the availability of resources for black and white people; it explains how non-white people have additional hurdles to jump; and it explains why non-white people have inadequate representation. The concept of stereotypes can easily explain the ease of maneuverability in the world (and it can explain the additional burdens), according to which having stereotypes about non-white people blocks their ability to easily move about in the social world. And the concept of racism can easily explain the non-availability of resources since racism explains the kind of social and economic inequality that we often encounter. Privilege seems to not add anything of interest in this regard. If anything, the concept of privilege is not prior to the above concepts, but is based on them. Put differently, people have privilege because of racism and sexism and other isms, not the other way around. This puts pressure on the concept of privilege in that we will need to find a reason for its use. Is it just an epiphenomenal concept that arises out of the concepts of racism, sexism, and so on? Or does it do any real explanatory work? I will return to this issue below.

 A different definition of “privilege,” given by Dan Lowe, is that privilege is “a person’s advantage due to their membership in a social group, in contexts where that membership shouldn’t normally matter.”[10] To understand this definition, note its key terms: “advantage,” “membership in a social group,” and “context.” The following example illustrates the definition. In virtue of being a man, I belong to the social group of men. Now consider the context of walking alone on the street late at night. In that context, I have the advantage of not having to worry about being sexually assaulted, and it is an advantage that I have in virtue of my social group membership (i.e., in virtue of being a man). But this is a context that should not normally matter to my having the advantage of safety; women who walk alone on the street late at night should also not have to worry about being sexually assaulted. Unfortunately, they do have to constantly worry about that. So being a man confers upon me the advantage of feeling safe in the context of walking down the street late at night. This is a privilege that I have in virtue of being a man in contexts in which I should not have that advantage (in comparison to women who do not have it).

What are some examples of contexts in which having an advantage in virtue of belonging to a group is not morally problematic? Lowe gives the example of having the advantages of belonging to a country club:[11] members have certain “perks” in virtue of being members of country clubs, and these perks are not morally problematic because this is what it means to be a member of a country club. Fair enough. Are there examples of contexts in which being a man confers an advantage that is not morally problematic? If yes, then being a man would not be a privilege in those contexts.[12]

Lowe’s definition, however, faces counter-examples, ones stemming from its reliance on the idea of context, and others from its reliance on a broad concept of social groups.

Consider being a man or a woman in the context of crime punishment or custody of one’s children. These contexts should not confer an advantage in virtue of one’s being a man or a woman, in that men and women should serve the same punishment for the same crime, and men and women should have equal forms of custody assuming that they have identical histories and cases (e.g., an alcoholic parent should get the same amount of custody regardless of whether the parent is the father or mother). Presumably, however, men get tougher sentences than women do for the same crimes, and it is much harder for men than for women to retain custody of their children.[13] If so, then it turns out that women have privilege in particular contexts that men do not have.

Why is this a problem for Lowe’s definition? It is a problem because the definition yields implications that do not cohere with the intention behind the concept of privilege. The concept should not have the implication that in one context men have privilege, while in another context women do. Instead, the concept is absolute: that in virtue of being men, men have privilege, period, and in virtue of being women, women lack privilege, period (though of course the privilege increases or decreases depending on other factors). Insofar as Lowe’s definition is a philosophical reconstruction of the concept of privilege, it fails to capture this crucial dimension of the concept’s application. It implies that some individuals, depending on the context, do not always have privilege, whereas the main point behind the concept is that they do have privilege precisely because they belong to particular groups. That is, in relativizing privilege to context, the definition neglects the connection between privilege and social injustice.[14] Lowe’s definition, I am guessing, uses the idea of context so as to include those cases in which belonging to a social group confers a rightful advantage (and the cause, I think, is Lowe’s broad notion of social groups). But in doing so, it misses out on the (just-mentioned) crucial aspect of the way the concept of privilege is meant to work.[15]

The second problem has to do with the broadness of the idea of social group. It covers an indefinite number of groupings, including men, women, country clubs, vegans, maids, single parents, restaurant owners, dog walkers, pants-wearers, nurses, engineers, ice cream eaters, ice cream makers, and so on. Basically, any group of people that is a group in virtue of having a social property (as opposed to a merely biological or merely mental property) is a social group. The drawback, however, is that on this broad conception of social group the definition includes many cases of privilege that the concept is not intended to include (so these cases are also counter-examples to the definition).

Consider the following two counterexamples offered by my student, Chloe Kucirka, in her final exam. First, imagine two male politicians debating each other on stage, one of whom wears a medical, yet stylish, pair of glasses. The eye-glasses-wearing politician does better on the polls than his opponent because he comes across as more intelligent and chic. The politician who wears glasses, according to Lowe’s definition, has an advantage of appearing more intelligent due to belonging to the social group of eye-glasses-wearing men, in a context in which this membership should not provide him with any advantage.

Second, consider membership in the social group of men who own puppies. Men in this group have an advantage over men who do not own puppies in the context of securing dates on Tinder and other apps because guys/gals just love puppies and are more likely to give a guy with a puppy a chance for a date (so as to hang out with the the guy and the puppy). According to Lowe’s definition, men puppy owners have privilege because their social membership to that group improves their dating chances. However, in the context of judging potential dates on Tinder, having a puppy should not weigh in favor of or against one’s dating abilities.

The above two examples show that Lowe’s definition can generate an indefinite number of privileges that people have in virtue of belonging to various social groups and in different contexts. But few, if any, advocates of the concept of privilege would accept this consequence. This is because the concept of privilege, as I explained above, is meant to be tied to social justice, and neither wearing stylish eye glasses nor owning puppies has much to do with social justice.

I propose a simpler definition that captures the intention behind the concept of privilege, while leaving room for context. The definition is as follows: Privilege is the social-and-political advantage that an individual has in virtue of being a member of one or more social groups on list L, with the proviso that for a group to be correctly placed on L it has to occupy or to have occupied a socially and politically advantaged position compared to other groups (in the same society) owing to systemic injustice.[16]

Note three things about the definition. First, it itself does not state which social group is on L, only requiring that for a group to be on L, it has to have social and political advantage compared to other groups in the same in the same society because of social injustice. Determining which specific group goes on L is done through historical, social, political, and philosophical analysis of which groups have historically been, so to speak, on top. Thus, second, L is not a fixed list and varies from society to society and from time to time.[17] This is a virtue of the definition, because it makes it applicable to all societies.

Third, the definition itself says nothing about whether someone’s social membership in an L-group actually confers an advantage on the person in a particular situation or context, given that in some contexts other factors might override the membership’s ability to be effective (i.e., to confer an actual advantage). For example, a man’s whiteness might not confer an advantage on him in the context of the NBA, and a man’s manliness might not confer safety from sexual assault in the context of being in prison. This is a good implication of the definition, because it allows us to say that one has privilege even if one does not “cash in” the privilege in every circumstance.[18]

The definition, as worded, might face counter-examples. But its main idea is sound: any definition of privilege that hopes to capture how the concept is used needs to connect privilege to the idea of membership in groups that have had advantages owing to social injustice.

II- The Point of Talking About Privilege

Let us turn to the issue of the point of talking about privilege: What are the reasons for employing this concept?[19] This question is ambiguous and can mean at least three things. The first has to do with the reference of the concept: Does the concept refer to a fact or a phenomenon that other existing concepts do not refer to? Does the concept capture something that we have missed? The second question has to do with explanation: Does the phenomenon or fact captured by the concept of privilege explain other facts and phenomena that existing concepts cannot explain or do not explain as well? The third question has to do with the practical or political uses to which the concept can be put: How can the use of the concept of privilege better society?[20]

I am not convinced that the concept captures something new.[21] The main reason for my claim is that we have always known that various forms of social injustice, such as racism and sexism, have given some groups of people unfair social advantages while depriving others of these advantages. For example, racism in the United States has given whites various forms of power—legal, social, political, economic—that non-whites did not have. In this regard, we have always known that members of such groups, respectively, had and lacked advantages. So it is unclear what the concept of privilege adds to these facts. Has anyone doubted, before we stumbled upon “privilege,” that, generally speaking, white people can, but black people cannot, move about a place not having to worry about being racially profiled or stereotyped?

One might reply that what privilege captures is the subtle phenomena of racism, sexism, able-ism, etc. as they continue to this day, especially given that many people believe (erroneously, perhaps) that our society is in general no longer racist, sexist, able-ist, etc. That is, while racism, sexism, able-ism, and so on are generally no longer obvious or “on the books,” they still make their way into the fabric of society in subtle, daily ways, and privilege captures this fact.

No doubt, racism and sexism and other forms of inequality persist, but we do not need the concept of privilege to capture them. We already have existing concepts that do so. Using racism and society as an example, consider five such concepts: inequality, disadvantages, disparate treatment, lack of representation, and stereotypes. Between them, these concepts more than suffice to capture the continued racism, be it subtle or not subtle.

Privilege also does not seem to play any important explanatory role—it seems to be explanatorily idle. That I have the privilege, as a man, of feeling safe while walking down the street late at night seems to be a fact that results from a system of sexism, rather than a fact that explains sexism—it is an epiphenomenon. And although it can (partially) explain why there are more solitary men than women on the streets late at night, the concept of privilege need not figure in the explanation because other phenomena can do this as well, such as male sexual aggression in a sexist system.

Lowe suggests that we need privilege to explain why advantages persist. He states, “If we only think about disadvantages and the ways in which society fails certain groups, it becomes somewhat puzzling why these disadvantages haven’t yet been remedied. Yet when we focus on the advantages gained by dominant groups, we recognize that some groups have a vested interest in society staying the way it is.”[22] Lowe is right that a concept such as privilege helps explain the vested interest that some people have. But it is unclear why we specifically need the concept of privilege to explain this fact. Why not, for example, use a concept that we already have, such as advantages (which Lowe himself uses)? Knowing what we know about the social inequalities between, say, whites and blacks, and that whites as whites have social advantages that blacks as blacks do not have, we immediately recognize that whites “have a vested interest in society staying the way it is.” No recourse to the concept of privilege is needed.

Thus, so far I see no particular theoretical advantage to using this specific concept. The facts that it points to are subsumed by other concepts, and it seems to play no obvious explanatory role when it comes to diagnosing and understanding unequal economic, social, and political structures.

Of course, none of the above need stop us from using the word “privilege” as a new or additional term, albeit with somewhat different connotations than other terms (like “advantages”), to refer to the phenomenon that some members of society, in virtue of membership to particular groups, have types of advantages due to social injustices. Indeed, “privilege” does have—I think—particular connotations when used to refer to individuals as having privilege. That is, because its use is not confined to theoretical analysis, but is often practical and applied to individuals (e.g., when someone is told, “Check your privilege”), the term has some interesting connotations. I find them to be underhandedly accusatory, in that even though one might not be culpable in having the privilege that one has, one should still do something about it, with the implication that if one doesn’t, one is morally at fault, perhaps by being willfully complicit in an –ism or a –phobia. The idea is that because one is at that point aware of one’s privilege, the refusal to do something about it is culpable.

What can one do about one’s privilege? For one thing, one can be conscious of one’s privilege, because this, as Lowe writes, would help one “empathize better with members of other social groups, to understand that they may not have the same advantages or face the same obstacles” that one does.[23] Lowe adds that this is what “check your privilege” means, which is “not to feel ashamed for having it or use it as an excuse for inaction, but to acknowledge that your experiences and perceptions of the world may be quite different from those of members of other social groups.”[24]

Lowe’s remarks are plausible but ambiguous. Being conscious of one’s privilege can be a general outlook or framework within which one operates and steers one’s life. And it can be a momentary declaration or thought that one does once, twice, or on various occasions (e.g., at the start of meetings). My preference is for the former, because it is the “real thing”: it is an insight that can go deep into one’s psyche and re-orient one’s way of seeing the world, whereas the latter can get ritualistic and can be forced, done because one feels that one has to (e.g., to appease a crowd, to virtue signal).

In addition to being empathetic and more understanding of others’ experience, how might one check one’s privilege in one’s own life in particular situations? Put differently, how does one’s general awareness of one’s privilege translate into particular actions on one’s part? Consider the Alice example that Lowe uses. Alice, who is a real person, is a white, poor woman who shoplifts. She is honest in claiming that she has an easier time shoplifting because she is a white woman: store security personnel just don’t suspect white women as much as they suspect others.[25] Discussing this example in regards to what Alice should do about her privilege, Lowe states, “In addition to the fact that she probably should not have been shoplifting, she shouldn’t have been willing to benefit from using privilege in the way she did.”[26] This claim struck me as bizarre when I first read it. I mean, if Alice should not be shoplifting to begin with, then this is it—end of story. What else can Alice do to not benefit from her privilege? Perhaps Lowe is suggesting that if she insists on shoplifting, then she should shoplift by not using her privilege. But it is unclear what this means.[27]

  To better see what is strange about this, change the example to innocuous behavior. Instead of using an example of wrongdoing (e.g., shoplifting), consider an example of a man walking down the street and feeling safe from sexual assault. What should this man do to check his privilege? Should he stop walking late at night by himself? Perhaps. But even though it would be noble of him to do this, the action is not morally required, because he, as the specific individual that he is, did not gain this privilege at the expense of women.[28] If women were able to feel safe while walking alone late at night, men would not lose their privilege because of that—it is not a zero sum game.[29] So what is the man in question supposed to do as a result of being aware of his privilege? (Again, in addition to being empathetic towards women who do not want to walk alone late at night or who ask their men friends to accompany them to, say, their cars.)

An additional complicating point about what to do about one’s privilege is that the concept of privilege as it is used does not refer to special benefits that privileged people get over and above what is normal; it refers to what everyone should have, as part of everyday life: walking alone late at night while feeling safe and not being profiled by the police are and should be the normal states of affairs. So talk of privilege is talk of some groups having access to the “normal” that other groups do not have (otherwise, talk of social injustice would be mostly out of place).[30]

This leads, however, to a third complicating point, namely, that talk of privilege focuses not on those who need to be lifted up to the normal state of affairs, but on those who occupy the normal state of affairs. As Ben Burgis puts it, “It’s not just that women and black people should have more. It’s that men and white people should have less.”[31] Combined with the second complication stated above, this indicates that when we ask someone to do something about their privilege—again, setting aside asking them to be aware of it and to be empathetic—we border on asking them to give up what is normal for everyone to have. If true, then it is entirely unclear why someone should give up something that should be normal for everyone, especially when one’s having it does not come at the expense of others’ having it, and when the focus can and should be on lifting those who do not have it to the normal level.[32]

A fourth and final complication is that individuals are often told to check their privilege without much knowledge about those individuals’ history and circumstances. On the definition that I offered, I noted that one’s privilege need not always lead to one having any actual advantages, because the context can have additional features that render one’s privilege ineffective. This can happen because non-privileged aspects of one’s identity defeat the privileged aspects of it, as when one’s gayness undermines one’s manliness in a homophobic context, or when a woman’s womanliness renders irrelevant her whiteness in a context of male sexual aggression. In addition, one’s privilege can be rendered ineffective because elements external to the person render ineffective the privileged aspects of one’s identity: imagine someone who is at the top of the privilege pyramid (white, middle class, able, straight cisman) and think of the various situations, short and long term, in which his privilege is ineffective: being attacked on the street late at night, being humiliated at a party, failing his exams, people not paying him any attention, being riddled with anxiety, taking care of a terminally sick person, being terminally ill himself, and so on.

  When we combine these four points—individual privilege as not coming at the expense of others, privilege as referring to what everyone should have, privilege as focusing on bringing down as opposed to lifting up, and contexts that can render one’s privilege ineffective—it becomes unclear what individuals should do to check their privilege. This lack of clarity lends support to the suspicion that asking individuals (especially publicly) to check their privilege reeks of being an exercise in guilt-tripping and shaming. In addition, when individuals are sometimes not even given the chance to engage the admonitions, the shaming and guilt-tripping are compounded by robbing the accused of the dignity of a response.[33]

III. Concluding Summary

I have explained the features of the concept of privilege and argued against one philosophical definition of it, offering a different one instead. I have also argued that the concept neither captures something new nor plays an important theoretical explanatory role. Despite this, we might still wish to retain the word for whichever purpose (theoretical or practical). If we do so, however, I caution against its use by third parties against individuals. To my mind, its best practical use is self-application: individuals applying the concept to their own selves, to help them look at the world and others’ experiences through a different lens. But even here we have other concepts for that, ones without the connotations of shaming and guilt-tripping that have tainted the discourse surrounding “privilege.”



[1] It is an interesting question whether privilege is primarily a property of groups and secondarily of individuals, or vice versa. I will define the latter in terms of the former because claims of having privilege tend to be made of individuals. Nonetheless, there is a very good possibility that this puts the cart before the horse. I will touch on this again below where I offer my definition of “privilege.” For the sake of simplicity, I will use “privilege” as an adjective to describe both groups and individuals. And when I use it to describe a group, I mean by it that the group has a socially advantaged position compared to other groups owing to socially systemic injustice.

[2] I borrow this example from Dan Lowe, “Privilege: What Is It, Who Has It, and What Should We Do About It?” in Ethics Left and Right, edited by Bob Fischer (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020), pp. 457–464 (the example is on pp. 459–60). Below, I address Lowe’s definition of privilege.

[3] Lowe thinks that in the NBA context black basketball players have privilege, which would put him at odds with how the concept is intended.


[5] Ben Burgis categorizes McIntosh’s examples into two groups: “(a) actual examples of unjust disparities between the treatment of white people and members of racial minorities (e.g., the traffic cop example) or (b) examples of frustrations that result simply from being a member of a cultural minority in any society (e.g., not every store, including major ones, will offer an exhaustive supply of your staple foods).” See his “The Problem with ‘Privilege’ Talk”; Arc Digital, April 9, 2020 (; date of access July 21, 2020).

[6] Three things: (1) I put an asterisk next to the ones that I found unconvincing. (2) I do not list those examples that I found unclear (examples #1, 2, 11, 22). (3) I relist those examples that illustrate more than one theme.

[7] This last claim can get complicated pretty quickly. Suppose that I am a white person who claims that whatever I have now I have earned through my own perseverance, labor, diligence, and so on. Then one might reply that perseverance, labor, and so on are easier for white people.

[8] I’m using “inclusive” in the philosophical, definitional sense, not the positive sense associated with “being inclusive” or “inclusivity.”

[9] This, too, can get complicated pretty quickly, because for any advantage given as an example, one can argue that white privilege had something to do with it: sunny dispositions don’t just come down from the sky like manna, but can be the result (partly) of having an easier time maneuvering through the world.

[10] Lowe, “Privilege,” p. 457.

[11] Thus, on Lowe’s definition country clubs are social groups. This implies that on Lowe’s definition the concept of social group is very broad. I will return to this.

[12] I do not give such examples because they are hard to come by; any suggested ones will be controversial in regards to whether the advantages are really not morally problematic. The point here is the same as that in Footnotes 7 and 9.

[13] For some data, see David Benatar, The Second Sexism: Discrimination Against Men and Boys (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), pp. 50–54, and pp. 59–61.

[14] Lowe can reply that his definition is compatible with the idea behind the concept of privilege because the contexts in which men have privilege vastly outnumber those in which women have privilege. That might be empirically true, but it would sever the crucial connection between a group’s having privilege and social injustice.

[15] See the similar (but subtly different) objection that Spencer Case gives to Lowe’s definition; “Reply to Lowe,” in Ethics Left and Right, 476–478 (the objection is on pp. 476–477).

[16] To pick up on a point from Footnote 1, if we think that it is groups that a definition of privilege should apply to, not individuals, then this definition is wrong-headed. So I propose the following: A group has privilege if it occupies or has occupied a socially and politically advantageous position in comparison to other groups (in the same society) due to systemic injustice. An individual, then, has (defeasible or pro tanto) privilege in virtue of being a member of a group with privilege. An individual’s privilege is defeasible (or pro tanto) because in some contexts some factors might override this privilege.

[17] Of course, we can have a Grand List of all the groups, ever, who have occupied such social positions. Such a list might be complicated for various reasons, including identifying groups as enduring through various cultures and times.

[18] Another option is to build the context into the definition by saying say that one has pro tanto privilege or all-things-considered privilege. My main worry about this option has to do with whether the defeating conditions merely drown (or overtake) one’s privilege, or whether they obliterate it. The former coheres with the intention behind the concept of privilege (whereas the latter does not) insofar as we want to say that a white man always has privilege, in every context.

[19] This question is not about the psychological reasons that individual people have for using the concept; these can vary widely.

[20] Lowe raises the issue of the point of talking about privilege, but he does not distinguish between these three aspects of it.

[21] This need not stop us from using it as a new name for whichever phenomena we already have covered by other concepts, if doing so satisfies certain conditions, such as political or social utility, or highlighting those phenomena. More on this shortly.

[22] Lowe, “Privilege,” p. 463. I am assuming that Lowe intends this as a partial explanation, given that such social phenomena usually have more complicated explanations and explaining why they persist cannot be reduced to only vested interests.

[23] To put my cards on the table, I have come to dislike the word “empathy” because it is overused and, as a colleague of mine put it, because it is used “selectively.”

[24] Lowe, “Privilege,” p. 462. I doubt that we need this concept to have such awareness.

[25] Lowe, “Privilege,” p. 457.

[26] Lowe, “Privilege,” p. 462.

[27] Perhaps Lowe wanted to suggest that Alice’s reasons for not shoplifting should be that stealing is wrong and that stealing by a white woman helps entrench certain practices against black people.

[28] It is not even clear that when it comes to privilege that privileged groups have it at the expense of groups that do not. In his response to Case, Lowe claims that ordinary talk about about privilege “involves no judgment about whether the harm experienced by black people benefits whites” (“Reply to Case,” p. 475, my emphasis; in Ethics Left and Right, edited by Bob Fischer (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020, pp. 474–475).

[29] Case makes the similar point that privilege in the strong sense means that the privileged group is the oppressive group. See “White Privilege: A Conservative Perspective,” in Ethics Left and Right, edited by Bob Fischer (Oxford University Press, 2020), pp. 465–472. The point is made throughout the essay, but is introduced on pages 467–468.

[30] Thanks to José Antonio Fernández for elaborating and advising me to discuss this point.

[31] “The Problem with ‘Privilege’ Talk” (emphasis in the original).

[32] Consider this remark by McIntosh from the first paragraph of “White Privilege: The Invisible Knapsack”: she states that men tell her that they are willing to help enhance women’s statuses “in society, the university, the curriculum, but they can’t or won’t support the idea of lessening men’s” (my emphasis).

[33] Consider this final paragraph from Cara Liebowitz’s essay about being privileged with ableism: “You don’t have to know that ableism exists to be an ableist. Nor does being an ableist mean that you are a horrible, soulless person. Being an ableist just means that you have privilege you need to acknowledge, and patterns of thought that you need to change. So what should you do if someone calls you out on your ableism? Take a step back. Reflect on your privilege and what you said or did. Recognize why someone may take offense at that. If you don’t understand why it’s ableist, don’t start pointing fingers at the other person, claiming that they are oversensitive. Ask politely, and think on their answer. Apologize, and learn a lesson. You are not evil because you are an ableist. So take the opportunity to learn about your own privilege. Hopefully, you’ll come away knowing more than you did before” (“Just Because It’s Ableist Doesn’t Mean It’s Bad,” in Privilege: A Reader [4th edition], edited by Michael S. Kimmel and Abby L. Ferber [Westview Press, 2017], pp. 153–155, at p. 155.

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