“Privilege” could be a useful concept, but with the way it’s used in modern discourse it’s just not.
At its base, “privilege” is a really simple concept.
It just means “stuff that one group has which another group doesn’t”.
Yes, it can get a tad more complicated when you start considering that an individual can be a member of multiple groups, with different gains or drops in various privileges attached to those memberships (which is pretty much all “intersectionality” means) but it’s still firmly in the area of grade school logic.
Really: intersectionality is literally just the logic of Venn diagrams; these are not complicated concepts.
The problem is that this stuff of which “privilege” is made can be good or bad.
Some of it is stuff that everyone should have, like:
- expecting to be treated well, or at least fairly, by the State
- not having to worry about bills, or food
- expecting your children to be healthy
But some of it is stuff no one should have, like:
- expecting the police to always take your side
- being able to ignore politics because it doesn’t affect you
- never having to learn how anything works
And just talking about “privilege” hides that difference.
You can’t tell, when something is dismissed as “speaking from privilege”, what that means.
Maybe something good; maybe something bad.
Maybe a privileged statement is just expressing ignorance; maybe it’s deliberative and thoughtful.
But just calling something “privilege” doesn’t tell you anything useful about it at all.
All it tells you is that the speaker thinks some groups in society have it, and others don’t.
And this is really important, because ideas and thinking that come from good privileges shouldn’t just be dismissed out of hand as “speaking from privilege”.
Having the education and background knowledge to understand an issue when making a decision is definitely a “privilege” of wealth in the United States, but it’s still better than being ignorant and making decisions based on nothing more than stereotypes.
Being aware of the research on vaccines and having the basic biological knowledge to understand it (if only at the non-professional level) is privilege, after all. Many people don’t have that, and in general it’s wealth that controls access to that understanding.
But it’s still a good thing, and everyone should have it.
And a word that tells you nothing about what it’s being applied to isn’t useful.
It just makes the discourse ambiguous and incoherent.
Calling things “privilege” isn’t useful commentary or a contribution to productive thought.
It’s just an insult.