Thursday, 3 September 2015



I am going to refer you to the post from yesterday. For this one to work you need to read that first.

Then I'm going to repeat the bone analogy.

A good metaphor I keep seeing is the man who goes to the doctor for a broken arm, and the doctor starts examining the rest of the man’s body. The injured man says, “Doc, it’s my arm that’s broken; everything else is fine,” and the doctor responds, “All bones matter.” Of course they do! But they aren’t the ones that are hurting right now!

Let's consider that in terms of privilege. Those other bones, the unbroken ones, don't need attention right now. Maybe they will one day, but today the bone requiring help is the broken one. Are all the other bones the same? No. They are different sizes, they do different jobs, some are more worn than others. Some may have been broken in the past. Really they only share two characteristics.

1. They are bones.
2. They are unbroken.

Two characteristics is enough to form a subset. The set, the whole group, is bones. Together, the grouping is obvious. They are not tissue, they are not organs, they are not liquid. Anyone can see they are bone. Being unbroken (their condition) selects those who right now don't need attention. The subset, broken bones.

Here, have a Venn diagram.

But that's just an analogy. When we talk about privilege, we are usually referring to people.

It is tempting - and hopefully natural (don't make me do the lecture on human nature, not today anyway) - to see this as a compassionate thing. It's also a logic thing, as I can demonstrate with Venn diagrams etc. A subset is a grouping of whatever we are talking about, that is smaller than the whole. So, any grouping of people that is not enjoying the privileges that the rest are enjoying is also a subset.

Here are a couple for you.

This subset suffers when its raining. Of the rest (the green), there are those who have to go out, and those who don't. Some have cars, and some don't. Some are sick, and some are not. Some live in the desert and some live on the west side of the mountains. So, of this privileged group there are many differences, and some will still get wetter than others, but nothing changes the fact that, for now, they own raincoats.

But this is a fluid group. Some of the subset can acquire raincoats, and some of the privileged can lose them. There are many things among humans like that. Employment, illness, wealth, etc, are all things that can change either way, so it's possible (however difficult or involuntary) to move from privilege to non-privilege and vice versa.

Not everything is like that. 

If you are right-handed the world is set up for you. No matter what other issues you may have, you are in the privileged group. Any gadget you buy is designed to be held or used in the right hand. Left handed people either have to make do, or buy special gadgets, sometimes at a higher price.

There are situations where being left-handed is an advantage, you may get selected onto a sports team purely on that basis because it messes with the opposition. If you break your right hand, you don't have the same problems a right-handed person may have, and if that means you can still work it could save you money. But these situations are temporary and few and far between, so in the great scheme of things they are not relevant. The right handers are still privileged, be they rich, poor, or whatever, because this society assumes right-handedness as the norm.

Of course, this is privilege based purely on numbers. The majority of people are right handed. All downsides to being left-handed are the result of there being a smaller percentage of left-handed people being born.

Sometimes privilege is with the minority.

This is rather obvious privilege, but it's not really any different to any other privilege. Those in the privileged group take it for granted because that's what they are used to. And people get used to it very quickly. And fight like tigers to keep it.

Those not in the privileged group are not necessarily suffering. They may not even WANT personal staff, lack of privacy, independence, whatever. Makes no difference. The fact remains that a small minority of people in this world have the privilege (and option) not to do menial work for themselves.

When you are privileged you forget.

That doesn't make you evil. Nobody is suggesting that. But an awareness would be better. Many parents in the western world, even those who are not especially well-off, make a point of reminding their children how lucky ( = privileged) they are to live as well as they do. Many of us were guilt tripped by our mothers when we wasted food as children, and most of us rolled ours eye, because we were too young to "get it".

Getting it happens at different times for everyone. I know I certainly didn't get it quickly. Even though as a teenager I was quite angry about injustice in the world, I was very selective. Even when I had kids, who taught me a lot, I still had much to learn. Even when I had the luxury of moving to a different country out of choice and not by force, even when I bought my farm, the dream of so many. No. I still had much to learn. How did I finally "get it" about privilege?

People kept telling me about it. Sometimes it annoyed me, and sometimes I protested. But they didn't give up. Eventually the penny dropped.

I won't give up either. I pass on the stuff I've learned. I learn and then I teach. I am patient.

If you have any questions, I'll try to answer them.


  1. Loving the diagrams today; especially the left-handed one. ;) ~ Blessings! :)

  2. The thing is more then one bone is broken. Mexicans for example have the same problem. To not acknowledge this and not enlist their support says a lot about the core of the movement and the experience of those involved. The civil right movement of the 60's worked because there was support from many groups including the white privileged group. The history being told is that Blacks did this alone. Obviously they were a big part, but alone no way. A white guy sent in troops, white guys passed laws and made sure they were enforced. White people put pressure on the system and so on. That misunderstanding of what actually occurred will in time be very harmful. The all lives matter started as a way to correct this by including anyone wishing to lend support and it is being demonized as a competitor. The worst part IMO is the lack of concern for other victims will be returned as lack of concern. If the goal truly is change the more people involved the better the odds are.

  3. My name is Robin and i am privileged.
    My comment is that the Venn diagrams you have given are mainly accurate but represent well defined groups.
    The privileged group in such a diagram would need to have no edges and fade right to the edges of the circle containing the mass of humanity.
    Compared to some/most humans, every one in this country is privileged to an extent.