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running head: PRIVILEGE AND SOCIAL IDENTITIES

Privilege and Social Identities


Western Washington University
Crescent Munsen

running head: PRIVILEGE AND SOCIAL IDENTITIES

We live in a culture in which the dominant group consists of heterosexual white males.
Individuals living within our system will experience privilege or oppression because of this.
Privilege as we know it in the US comes in many forms. Factors such as race, ability, sexual
identity, gender, and socioeconomic status affect the advantages that society grants to a group.
Throughout this quarter I have been studying the concept of privilege and how it affects the
groups who benefit from it, as well as those who are oppressed by it. When a group is favored or
advantaged in society, it is facilitated and strengthened by the power of institutions. It is because
of the systematic power that institutions hold that make breaking the oppression of privilege
difficult. Along with institutions, privilege is carried on through various forms of racism,
prejudice, and cultural stereotyping. Wildman and Davis (2012) state that, to remedy
discrimination effectively we must make the power system and the privilege they create visible
and part of the discourse (p. 3). In this paper I hope to help make the impacts of privilege more
visible. I will be discussing how groups in the US experience privilege or the ramifications
because of it. Along with that, I will explain how groups are impacted due to their
intersectionality of social identities, my awareness about each social identity, how each identity
relates to equity, power relations, and institutional oppression, the dominant ideologies in the US,
as well as my plans for challenging the dominant ideologies.
The impacts of privilege can be seen amongst various social identities. Depending on a
persons race, ability, socioeconomic status, sexual identity, or gender, their experience with

running head: PRIVILEGE AND SOCIAL IDENTITIES

privilege will vary. A persons race is very dependent on their received privileges. Being white in
the US gives you advantages and opportunities that nonwhites do not have. This is an example to
white privilege. Historically, nonwhites have been extremely oppressed in the US. This
oppression has been seen in the most extreme cases of slavery to segregation. In the article,
Constructing Race, Creating White Privilege, Buck (2001) explains as mentioned in
Rothenberg and Mayhew, how the historical mistreatment of African Americans has caused a
great wealth disproportion that is still prominent today. In the article, Failing to See by Dalton
(2012), privilege is described by saying, white skin is a birthright, a set of advantages one
receives simply by being born with features that society values especially highly (p. 18).
Because society has constructed beliefs regarding race, nonwhites experience oppression.
Oppression is seen in our institutions, such as education and ones ability to have access to it. It
is also seen on a more micro level. Kimmel and Ferber (2014) give examples of racial privileges
that .may be overlooked. They give the example that, I can, if I wish, arrange to be in the
company of people of my face most of the time (p. 18). While this may not be something that
white people are often aware of, nonwhites may be. Racial privilege can also be seen on a larger
scale as Kimmel and Ferber (20140) point out that, if a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS
audits my tax return, I can be sure I havent been singled out because of my face (p. 19). In our
systems, the social construction of race has created a hierarchy that impacts every individual that
makes up that system.
Ability is another social identity that bears privilege as well as oppression. Those with
disabilities have long been fighting for their equal rights within the systems they interact with.
Our culture privileges those who are able bodied in many ways. People who are able bodied can
more easily access public transportation, find accommodating housing, and work in an

running head: PRIVILEGE AND SOCIAL IDENTITIES

environment that possess minimal physical barriers. Many of the abled privileges that exist in
society may seem invisible by those who are experiencing them. In the article, The Invisible
Crutch, by Jessica Shae (2009), she gives an example of an abled privilege by saying, my
neighborhood allows me to move about on sidewalks, into stores, and into friends homes
without difficulty (Kimmel, Ferber, 2014, p. 41). Our society is set up in a way that caters to
those who are physically and mentally able to carry out their daily routines with limited barriers.
Our institutions set up a school environment that privileges those without learning disabilities,
impacting the education of the oppressed. In the article, Disability and the Justification of
Inequity in American History Baynton (2000) explains that, the concept of disability has been
used to justify discrimination against other groups by attributing disability to them (p.
94).Oppression and ableism in the work field also impact the socioeconomic status of those who
experience a disability. The privileges that those who are abled experience, greatly impact the
daily lives of those with a disability.
Socioeconomic status, or class, drives great disparities between those who are privileged
and those who are oppressed. Depending on where in the US you grow up, your chances for
receiving an education, your interactions with the criminal justice system, the ability to receive
stable living conditions, your family dynamic, and having you basic needs met, vary. Our culture
is revolved around an individualistic way of thinking. Regardless of the external factors that
cause many to live in poverty, or those who a part of the 1%, society is constructed in a way that
tells us the American Dream can be accomplished no matter what walk of life you come from.
Kendall (2006) explains in her writing, Still Alive and Reproducing in the United States, that
class exists as a salient factor when people think in terms of us and them in society
(Kimmel, Ferber, 2014, p.98). This social construction of class creates a polarity between those

running head: PRIVILEGE AND SOCIAL IDENTITIES

with money and those without. Our institutions strengthen this polarity by giving longer jail
sentences to those with lower economic statuses, overcrowding and poorer education systems, as
well as making access to basic resources complex. In the article, Unequal Childhood: Class,
Race, and Family Life Lareau (2014) describes this disparity by saying,
Yet there is no question that society is stratified. Highly valued resources such as the
possession of wealth; having an interesting, well-paying, and complex job; having a good
education; and owning a home, are not evenly distributed throughout the society.
Moreover, these resources are transferred across generations (Rothenberg, Mayhew,
2014, p. 185)
When society sets a standard of living, but only allows certain groups to attain such standards,
we see many groups greatly marginalized and oppressed.
The dominant culture has created a system based on socially constructed beliefs that
pays favor to individuals who identify as heterosexual. Looking at our larger systems it is clear to
see the privileges that heterosexuals receive. For instance, they have the right to marry in every
state, they have the right to be recognized as family, and they are not discriminated or prejudiced
because of their sexual identity. Those who identify as anything but heterosexual they are not
given these same rights. Moreover, other sexual identities may face physical harm simply for
having a sexual identity that our culture does not say is the norm. Kimmel and Ferber (2014)
assert that those receive privilege, have no difficulty finding a neighborhood where people
approve of my household [and].. will feel welcomed and normal in the usual walks of public
life, institutional and social (p. 25). This fear of society inhibits individuals to express
themselves openly.

running head: PRIVILEGE AND SOCIAL IDENTITIES

Due to our patriarchal society, men are seen as the dominant gender group. Rothenberg
and Mayhew (2014) argue that because of this, every institution and aspect of culture contrives
to rationalize and perpetuate the dominance of men and subordination of women (p. 121).
Historically women have been viewed as less than equal to men. They have had to overcome
struggles to gain their ability to vote, hold certain job titles, gain an education, and protect
themselves from sexual mistreatment and violence. The hierarchy only marginalizes more if your
gender does not fit either male or female. Today we see the oppression of women in the inequity
of their pay, as well as their political and social power. In the article, Patriarchy, Johnson
(1997) discusses what happens when a woman reaches to a position of power. He says that,
when a woman finds her way into such positions, people tend to be struck by the exception of
the rule, and wonder how shell measure up against a man in the same position (Rothenberg,
Mayhew, 2014, p. 153). With these concepts of gender perpetuating barriers for woman and their
ability to be equal to men, their gendered groups remain oppressed.
When privileged or oppressed groups become overlapped, they are seen as being
intersected. An example of this would be an individual who identifies as female, and also African
American. Dominant ideologies will oppress her for not only her race, but her gender. To better
understand her oppression, you could not look at only her race or solely her gender.
Intersectionality looks at the experiences of the individual from all privilege points, or lack of.
Kimmel and Ferber (2014) use intersectionality theory to, explore the ways in which race,
gender, class, religion, physical ability, and sexuality interact in the lives of those who are
privileged by one or more of these identities (p. 12). From my own experience I can look at
how my privileges as a white, lower middleclass, able bodied, heterosexual, college student
intersect with my oppression of being a woman and a single mother. As discussed previously I

running head: PRIVILEGE AND SOCIAL IDENTITIES

am given an advantage by society because of my race. I do not have to think about the fact that I
am white on a daily basis. I can be around people of my shared race if I choose to, look at
magazines that reflect beauty products for my race, as well as many other privileges. My
socioeconomic status ensured that I grew up in a stable home, had my basic needs met, and
acquired an education as well as prepared me for college. My sexual identity has never caused
me to be fearful of judgment. I have never had to explain my sexual identity or heterosexual
relationships to anyone. Along with that, my physical and mental ability has never created
barriers for me. Even with all the privileges I gain advantage from, my experiences as a woman
and a single mother play a big role within my systems. While my socioeconomic status has
benefited me, being a woman means that I face barriers to achieving higher positions in my
career as well as receiving pay that is equal to that of a male who holds the same position.
Because I am a single mother, I face challenges of balancing my family life with my career
goals. To better understand the experiences of those who receive privilege or experience
oppression because of socially constructed dominant ideologies, it is important to view their
experience more holistically.
After having taken this course, my awareness about every social identity was explored
and strengthened. Prior to this class I had not considered the fact that African Americans had to
rebuild parts of their culture because most of what they had was taken away during slavery.
While I felt ignorant to this fact, I was extremely grateful to have the opportunity to learn about
it. I begin to see my privilege of knowing where my great grandparents were from and the
origins behind my ethnicities culture. Through this class I also realized the complexities of
sexual identity. I was enlightened during our conversation on this identity about the importance
of preferred pronouns. During our reading about socioeconomic status, I realized that I was not

running head: PRIVILEGE AND SOCIAL IDENTITIES

aware about the extreme disparities women face in our society. When our class explored ability I
found that my awareness about this social identity was very limited. During the movie Sound and
Fury I saw the struggles some individuals face in the deaf community. I realized that how we
view and label disability is socially constructed and can cause harmful oppression. After taking
this course, my awareness about the effects of privilege and oppression in relation to society and
our institution was greatly expanded.
The socially constructed dominant ideologies give privileges as well as create oppression.
From the wealth distribution to privileged white males, to institutionalized oppression of women
in the work field, dominant ideologies hold great power. The dominant ideologies in the US give
a hierarchy of power beginning with white, heterosexual, able bodied men. As groups become
more marginalized, their power in society decreases. Being white alone does not offer you with
the same opportunities. Because the dominant ideology in society favors men, white women are
faced with oppression. The dominant ideologies also give favor to those who identify as
heterosexual, upper-class,, race, and ability. Because of these ideologies, access to resources
from institutions may be limit.
As a human services major I believe it is my duty to challenges the injustices caused by
the dominate ideologies. In order to do this I plan on furthering my education about the
oppression and privileges groups receive. I believe it is important to stay informed on how
language and actions evolve to better reduce oppression. I also plan on being an ally for every
group mentioned in this paper.

running head: PRIVILEGE AND SOCIAL IDENTITIES

References

Buck, P. D. (2010). Constructing race, creating white privilege. In P. S. Rothenberg (Ed.), Race,
class, and gender in the United States (pp. 33-37). New York: Worth Publishers
Kimmel, M. S. (2014). Introduction: Toward a sociology of superordinate. In M. S. Kimmel &
A. L. Ferber
(Eds.), Privilege: A reader (pp. 1-12). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Dalton, H. (2008). Failing to see. In P. S. Rothenberg (Ed.), White privilege: Essential
readings on the other
side of racism (pp. 15-18). New York: Worth Publishers.
Lareau, A. (2014). Unequal childhoods: Class, race, and family life. In P. S. Rothenberg (Ed.),
Race, class,
and gender in the United States (pp. 180-186). New York: Worth Publishers.
Wildman, S. M., & Davis, A. D. (2012). Making systems of privilege visible. In P. S. Rothenberg
(Ed.), White
privilege: Essential readings on the other side of racism (pp. 107-113). New York:
Worth Publishers.

running head: PRIVILEGE AND SOCIAL IDENTITIES