Hegemony and Privilege


Lately on Facebook and in the media I’ve seen a lot of  ‘privilege’ being tossed around and abuses of ‘privilege.’ From what I’ve seen:

  1. Some people think ‘privilege’ means others want to take what they’ve earned from them or those without privilege  want some special advantage in the world.
  2. Some think they are without privilege and thus talk as if others are the ones with privilege.

So I thought I’d write a blog entry to engage some thoughts around the privilege I know I have and share some information that may help to clarify ‘privilege.’

Privilege: a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people. (Websters)

Perhaps some of us wonder where ‘privilege’ comes from? The simple answer as I see it is – hegemony!

Hegemony: the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group. (…good ole’ Websters again)

Yes. Hegemony is alive in any discourse and depending on where one sits on the ‘hegemony’ list the way they view the discourse (and the world around them) is affected.

List? Yes.

The list is a list of the social values imposed upon us all. This list of values are set against each other, ‘you either have it or you don’t and one is better than the other.’

Here is a beginning of a Hegemony List:

1) Being tall is better than being short

2) Being strong is better than being weak

3) Being male is better than being female

4) Being heterosexual is better than being lgbtq++

5) Being Christian is better than being ____

6) Being rich is better than being poor

7) Being educated is better than not educated

8) Being white is better than being a person of color

9) Being right handed is better than left handed

10) Being American is better than not

11) Being young is better than being old

12) Speaking English is better than not speaking English.

Power is given by being on the “right side” of the hegemony list. Power (or privilege) is then used for good or it is used for bad. Most of this ‘short list’ are things not ‘earned’ but given and are the basis of ‘privilege.’ Often too folks will infer superiority or inferiority to themselves and others depending where they land on each item of this list.

For instance, I am privileged. Of this list I have 4, 5, 7, 8, 10 and 12 to my advantage. Because of these ‘privileges’ I am freer or more advantaged than another. My responsibility to these advantages is to be mindful of their impact upon another, their false value; realizing they are nothing but a mere construct which can change over time. For instance, it used to be cool to smoke where today it is not. In face, today smokers often feel they are not welcomed, considered dirty by the larger society where in days past they conjured images of the Marlboro man. What changed was society and this is good.

Not only does this mean the list can change but that we, you and I, can actively work against this list; doing our part to change it so others are equally valued.

Where some find their ‘privilege’ gives them advantage others see responsibility.

Because of the privilege I hold I have responsibilities:

  1. To engage in conversations like these.
  2. To point it out when someone using their privilege to limit another.
  3. To work to deconstruct this list, eliminating the list…

Additional questions worth asking…

  1. This list is not exhaustive, can you think of things I missed?
  2. How does something get on the list?
  3. Might some folks work to have some things on this list stay this way in order for their own privilege to be secured?
  4. Why is it we have things categorized like this? In a binary value system when in fact the world holds so many variations of truth? Who is served by that?
  5. Why is it we hear more often from those who have the privilege (hegemonic value) and less often from those who do not have the privilege (hegemonic value)? Is there to be something gained by seeking their voices?

Now some of you may be thinking ‘weak sauce’ on this article and maybe so. As one with so much privilege it is hard for me to see my blind-spots and how easy it is to be me. I apologize. I am trying to be a better human being and know I have a ways to go. Thank you for your grace.



About Rev Hope

Marketer, Consultant, Minister and Chaplain See also: hopeattenhofer.com - a online resume', story of my personal and professional life.
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