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The Meaning & Shades Of The Concept Of Privilege

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First Reflection Paper

Several privileges, several injustices

When you think of equity, which are the first words that come to your mind? Probably one of the answers is privilege. It seems easy to define its meaning but by focusing on it, you can understand how many shades and meanings this topic can assume and which implications it can have in your daily life and routine. Each of us is a privileged person.

Peggy McIntosh describes these privileges as an invisible knapsack of tools and advantages, and how those advantages manifest themselves is by virtue of the disadvantaged position it places those not lucky enough to be born into the right place in society. Maybe the most common and historical example of privilege is being white and male but there can be several forms of privilege concerning sexual orientation, physical attributes, religion and so on, as long as there is a tipping of the scales of justice that leaves one group in an advantaged position at the expense of another group. However, I am pretty sure the most hated privilege doesn’t concern race, sex, religion but the world distribution of wealth.

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Philosophers, politicians, writers have focused on this topic for hundreds of years expressing different and contrasting points of view. Is it a privilege to be born into a rich family? Maybe yes, maybe not. But surely your income condition has inevitable effects on your life. Wealth brings with it a seemingly easy life. Wealth means one can always have food, water, shelter and the basic requirements of life. A greater amount of wealth means that good level education and amenities can be afforded. Wealth means the possibility to live experiences such as trips, vacations, activities and hobbies.

Wealth generally means more options. I don’t think some authors are wrong when they say richness is the biggest form of oppression in the history. Nevertheless, some privileges ask some fundamental questions which cannot have an answer and solution. I decided to focus on it because I am sure in the future there will be a perfect equality between males and females, white and black people, homosexuals and heterosexuals but no one will manage to find an answer to the question: Is it a privilege to be born in a rich family?

Career success and barriers

I think each of us asked him/herself at least one time the question: How can career success be defined? Probably it doesn’t exist just one answer because career success has different shades of meaning for every person. Some people believe it means having a strong impact on community gaining respect and high reputation, others think it is related to the development of new skills which allow you to achieve a specific job position inside a company or to financial security. Whatever the meaning of career success is, there are many barriers to achieve it and they can concern family, wealth distribution, sex, race, religion, network, disabilities and so on. That’s the reason why governments should take measures in order to reduce these barriers in public and private companies and to reward meritocracy. For example, Economics has long had a gender problem.

In US, United Kingdom and Australia, only about a third of economics students are women. Only one woman won the Nobel Prize for economics, and there are few women who have led the academic profession on either side of the Atlantic. But this male-dominated world is changing. In international organisations and in the public sector women are increasingly achieving high profile positions. Janet Yellen became President of Federal Reserve, Christine Lagarde was nominated Managing Director of IMF, Pinelopi Goldberg was appointed to the position of Chief economist of the World Bank.

These are clear examples that many barriers to career success have been broken down but much more still has to be done. One strong barrier, difficult to be removed even nowadays is wealth distribution. I highly believe it represents an obstacle to achieve success. People, who don’t have many economical means, can’t afford a good school and university education and this often prevents them to achieve top positions in companies because they have to face many different challenges and these require a large amount of time and intellectual strengths.

Honestly, I think that despite many barriers, no one should believe to be more disadvantaged than others because in my opinion this thought represents the biggest impediment to achieve career success. Many leaders and role models gained success because they made a strong effort not thinking about the advantages of others but only focusing on themselves and their objectives. The best way to break barriers down is to demonstrate that you can reach the top even if you start at the bottom.

Stereotypes in the society and in the workplace

People often tend to use the word “stereotype” in a bad connotation. But stereotypes are not always negative. They are common because they help our mind to organize thoughts and emotions. But what does it actually mean? Stereotype refers to a fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing. Some common examples? “Asians are good at math”. Some literature examples: When I read Harry Potter, I always noticed there were many stereotypes about the different houses of Hogwarts. Gryffindors were considered courageous. Slytherins were supposed to be bad and mean-spirited. But this isn’t always true. Severus Snape (a Slytherin) is one of the books’ great heroes. On the other side, Peter Pettigrew is a Gryffindor who betrayed Harry’s parents to Voldemort.

Focusing on them seriously, stereotypes have important implications for job and social life. They make employees less motivated and for this reason they strongly impact on their productivity and efficiency. During a teamwork, stereotyping can prevent an employee from asking for support or offering it to a particular employee. Moreover, there can be legal implications because employees can accuse the company of discriminatory behaviours.

Indeed, workers differ in a wide range of ways such as race, sex, age and all these differences can lead to stereotyping. According to common stereotypes in the workplace, old people are supposed not to understand technology, men are considered proner to the risk than women, white people enjoy more reliability than black people. I highly believe stereotyping is strictly related to social and organizational culture. The first step to avoid stereotypes is to create an open environment where every form of diversity is considered an added value and not a reason of fear or suspicion.

The freedom of express your identity

Why should your sexual orientation be a problem? This is a question I asked myself when I read the story of Donovan Hillary, a young and talented college football player not free to express his real personality due to the homophobic environment in his football team. I have a homosexual friend who was brutally beaten due to his sexual orientation and after this assault, while he cried, he asked me why he was not free to express his personality and to love whomever he wanted. I strongly believe gender issues are achieving an increasing importance which will probably have important implications on future school education. However, everyday most of us are forced to hide some aspects of our personality in order to be accepted in modern society. For example being a transgender can create many problems in society because some people consider it a symptom of devious minds and others react asking several embarrassing questions.

In this context it can be very dangerous showing your real personality even if sexuality is a spectrum of colours and not only black or white. It is rare that your social identity and your personal identity are the same. We can have a lot of social identities but only one personal identity. But obviously this affects all our daily behaviours when we take part of groups. Identity is the way we perceive and express ourselves. But especially in the workplace, many employees tend to manage identity by covering or passing it. Why does it happen? Because people are not still able to accept diversity.

They are scared about whatever is unknown or new and for this reason, they reject it by expressing hostility and a sense of not justified hate. Your gender, your age, your physical and psychological attributes, your appearance, your occupation, your ethnic origins, your experiences play an important role in defining one’s identity. It is clear that these elements are different from one person to another creating a diversified set of people and influencing the decisions we make: choosing our friends, adopting certain fashions, and aligning ourselves with political beliefs based on their identities Diversity is the reason why society is dynamic and innovative. That’s why I highly believe everyone should express their personality and interests with freedom and passion without having fear of other people’s judgement.


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