I don’t think there is any question on whether or not people experiences privileges based on a wide variety of their visible traits, qualities, or abilities. Some people, however, experience a bundle of privileges based on these categories and we generally call them “privileged.” Most obviously in this category, in the U.S., would be an economically well-off, white, middle-aged man; let’s call this man John. John experience privilege from his class status, his dominant race status, his age, and his sex.
The thing about privilege, however, is that we don’t always recognize we have it. Peggy McIntosh’s “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” discusses the ways she realizes that we, as white women, experience privilege every day in small and large ways. Most of the time, because privilege is comfortable and natural, we don’t notice that we aren’t being followed suspiciously in a store, or that people in positions of power are politer to us, or that we aren’t stopped by the police merely because we look “suspicious.” Without understanding the experiences that other groups go through, we can not recognize our own privilege; if you didn’t realize that women of color often are watched more closely in stores, treated with less respect, and assumed to be suspicious simply because of their skin-tone, you wouldn’t recognize your privilege to not go through these same experiences. This blog post provides another interesting discussion of recognizing one’s own privileges and the ways that language plays into privilege.
Because of the classes I’ve taken, and my own life experiences, I try to recognize my own race-based privileges and I also recognize that my gender and my bi-sexuality represent the intersections at which I experience oppression. However, there are some privileges which I feel get talked about much less. The major one I’m thinking of is physical ability. While I try to be conscious of race, class, and gender I often forget to consider differences in abilities like being deaf, blind, or physically disabled. If you have about 15 minutes to spare, I would recommend checking out this video of Judith Butler and Sunaura Taylor that discusses physical disability as another form of social oppression.