Society is structured based on several power systems, such as patriarchy, racism, heterosexism, cissexism, ageism, ableism, and classism, just to name a few.

  • People who have privilege are more likely to be in positions of power and can use their positions to benefit people like themselves (other privileged people). For example, in a patriarchal society, men are more likely to dominate politics, be economically well-off, have influence over the media, and hold executive positions in companies.

  • Privilege doesn’t go both ways; groups that don’t have institutional power do not have privilege. Women privilege, black privilege, transgender privilege, and poor privilege do not exist because these groups have largely been denied access to institutional power.

  • While individual experiences are important, we must understand privilege in terms of systems and social patterns. We’re looking at the rule, not the exception to the rule.

How to use your power and privilege

Be an upstander vs. a bystander

A bystander is someone who “stands by” and does not take action in the face of social injustice; whereas an upstander is someone who “stands up” to actively challenge injustice. Using your power to intervene amid harmful interactions moves you from being a bystander to an upstander.

When someone says something harmful, be prepared to say something. Don’t be silent, as that may come off as acceptance. Step up into the silence. You can choose to interrupt the silence by speaking about your thoughts on the interaction, describing the difference between intention and impact, or explicitly stating that what was said is offensive, etc.

Promote Inclusion

Inclusion can be described as breaking down barriers and building bridges to purposefully redefine and shape a culture within which all people are being included. It considers that ideas and practices are often based on what the dominant culture considers “normal,” which can result in exclusion, discrimination, and barriers to access for non-dominant groups.

Thus, inclusion requires implementing change to move away from the ideas and practices that are based solely in the dominant culture and towards embracing the ideas and practices reflective of all groups. Diversity is seen as enriching, rather than as a problem.

  • Be open to explore how your power and privilege play a role in your interactions with others.
  • Remain curious; be open to making mistakes and being corrected, and learning to do better the next time!