To not have conversations because they make you uncomfortable is the definition of privilege. Your comfort is not at the center of this discussion.

Brené Brown

Power can be understood as the privilege of not needing to learn.

The Beauty of Collaboration at Human Scale: Timeless patterns of human limitations

And what a privilege that is: To be completely wrong, and yet suffer no consequences for it.

“Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting,” Ten Years On | Whatever

When a social system is set up such that one particular group is almost always in a position of social power or privilege over another group, the members of the privileged group never truly need to learn or practice empathy or understanding for the members of the disempowered, oppressed group. Nor do the members of the privileged group need to learn to adapt to the communication style of the oppressed group.

Neurotypical privilege means that neurotypical people interacting with autistic people—particularly when the neurotypical people in question are in positions of professional authority—have the luxury of never having to address or even acknowledge their own empathy deficits or poor communication skills, because they can blame all failures of empathy, understanding, and communication on the alleged deficits of the autistic people.

Power—or privilege, as we now more commonly call the particular kind of power to which Deutsch was referring—is the ability not to have to learn. There’s a phrase, “check your privilege,” that’s often repeated but rarely understood or heeded by those privileged persons at whom it is directed. If we start from Deutsch’s definition of power or privilege as the ability not to have to learn, we can understand “check your privilege” to mean, at least in part, “Learn! Be quiet, pay attention, and learn. Learn, even though the learning process, and the level of profound humility it requires, is going to be uncomfortable. Learn even though, because of your privilege, this sort of learning and humility is a discomfort that you have the luxury of being able to avoid—a luxury that we didn’t have, when we had to learn your ways. Learn even though you don’t have to.”

Unfortunately, as members of all oppressed groups discover, most privileged people just won’t do that. The states of profound mindfulness, humility, openness to correction, and tolerance for uncertainty that such learning demands are too far outside of most people’s comfort zones. Most human beings simply won’t go that far outside of their comfort zones if they don’t have to. And privilege means they don’t have to.


The idea of “privilege”—that some people benefit from unearned, and largely unacknowledged, advantages, even when those advantages aren’t discriminatory —has a pretty long history. In the nineteen-thirties, W. E. B. Du Bois wrote about the “psychological wage” that enabled poor whites to feel superior to poor blacks; during the civil-rights era, activists talked about “white-skin privilege.” But the concept really came into its own in the late eighties, when Peggy McIntosh, a women’s-studies scholar at Wellesley, started writing about it. In 1988, McIntosh wrote a paper called “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies,” which contained forty-six examples of white privilege. (No. 21: “I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.” No. 24: “I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the ‘person in charge,’ I will be facing a person of my race.”) 

The Origins of “Privilege” | The New Yorker

Inequities are primarily power and privilege problems. 

Basic Principles for Equity Literacy

The Lowest Difficulty Setting

So, the challenge: how to get across the ideas bound up in the word “privilege,” in a way that your average straight white man will get, without freaking out about it?

Being a white guy who likes women, here’s how I would do it:

Dudes. Imagine life here in the US — or indeed, pretty much anywhere in the Western world — is a massive role playing game, like World of Warcraft except appallingly mundane, where most quests involve the acquisition of money, cell phones and donuts, although not always at the same time. Let’s call it The Real World. You have installed The Real World on your computer and are about to start playing, but first you go to the settings tab to bind your keys, fiddle with your defaults, and choose the difficulty setting for the game. Got it?

Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.

This means that the default behaviors for almost all the non-player characters in the game are easier on you than they would be otherwise. The default barriers for completions of quests are lower. Your leveling-up thresholds come more quickly. You automatically gain entry to some parts of the map that others have to work for. The game is easier to play, automatically, and when you need help, by default it’s easier to get.

Now, once you’ve selected the “Straight White Male” difficulty setting, you still have to create a character, and how many points you get to start — and how they are apportioned — will make a difference. Initially the computer will tell you how many points you get and how they are divided up. If you start with 25 points, and your dump stat is wealth, well, then you may be kind of screwed. If you start with 250 points and your dump stat is charisma, well, then you’re probably fine. Be aware the computer makes it difficult to start with more than 30 points; people on higher difficulty settings generally start with even fewer than that.

Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is | Whatever

It’s ten years on now, and I continue to call bullshit on this. I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor and I’ve been in the middle, and in all of those economic states I still had and have systemic advantages that came with being white and straight and male. Yes, being wealthy does make life less difficult! But on the other hand being wealthy (and an Oscar winner) didn’t keep Forest Whitaker from being frisked in a bodega for alleged shoplifting, whereas I have never once been asked to empty my pockets at a store, even when (as a kid, and poor as hell) I was actually shoplifting. This is an anecdotal observation! Also, systemically, wealth insulates people who are not straight and white and male less than it does those who are. Which means, to me, I put it in the right place in my formulation.

“Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting,” Ten Years On | Whatever

Neurotypical Privilege

The existence of the word neurotypical makes it possible to have conversations about topics like neurotypical privilege. Neurotypical is a word that allows us to talk about members of the dominant neurological group without implicitly reinforcing that group’s privileged position (and our own marginalization) by referring to them as “normal.” The word normal, used to privilege one sort of human over others, is one of the master’s tools, but the word neurotypical is one of our tools—a tool that we can use instead of the master’s tool; a tool that can help us to dismantle the master’s house.

Neuroqueer Heresies: Notes on the Neurodiversity Paradigm, Autistic Empowerment, and Postnormal Possibilities
Autistic Community and the Neurodiversity Movement | SpringerLink

We privilege some brains over other brains. We privilege some bodies over other bodies. And that gets embedded in our institutions.

Normal Sucks: Author Jonathan Mooney on How Schools Fail Kids with Learning Differences

White Privilege

But equality feels like an attack when privilege is all one knows.

The Long Southern Strategy: How Chasing White Voters in the South Changed American Politics

Simply put, White privilege is the societal privilege that benefits white people over non-white people in some societies, particularly if they are otherwise under the same social, political, or economic circumstances. The Privilege Institute looks at White Privilege intersectionally, in the Context of Various Systems of Privilege. Here are some examples from our past speakers and co-conspirators:

“Privilege exists when one group has something of value that is denied to others simply because of the groups they belong to, rather than because of anything they’ve done or failed to do. Access to privilege doesn’t determine one’s outcomes, but it is definitely an asset that makes it more likely that whatever talent, ability, and aspirations a person with privilege has will result in something positive for them.” Peggy McIntosh

“White Privilege is the other side of racism. Unless we name it, we are in danger of wallowing in guilt or moral outrage with no idea of how to move beyond them. It is often easier to deplore racism and its effects than to take responsibility for the privileges some of us receive as a result of it… once we understand how white privilege operates, we can begin addressing it on an individual and institutional basis.” Paula Rothenberg

“I can completely understand why broke white folks get pissed when the word ‘privilege’ is thrown around…I was constantly discriminated against because of my poverty and those wounds still run very deep…But The concept of intersectionality recognizes that people can be privileged in some ways and definitely not in others.” Gina Crosley-Corcoran

​​“Whites need to acknowledge and work through the negative historical implications of ‘Whiteness’ and create for ourselves a transformed identity as White people committed to equity and social change…To teach my White students and my own children…that there are different ways of being White, and that they have a choice as White people to become champions of justice and social healing.” Gary Howard

“The most powerful message that continues to reverberate through my head and heart is that of looking at the future and eliminating systems of oppression through the lens of possibility and hope.” Educator commenting on WPC 7


Content Note: racism, slavery, police violence, eugenics, abuse, sexism, hate crimes, torch bearing white supremacy

Comic of white people holding tiki torches under the text "Imagine if these people ever faced actual oppression."
Imagine if these people ever faced actual oppression.

Hello fellow humans,

Here is a comic I drew of a  twitter thread that Julius Goat wrote after the white supremacist terrorism that happened in Charlottesville on August 11 and 12. 

You can read his blog here, and more of my work here.    

We are also selling pdfs of this comic. It’s pay-what-you-want, and 100% of the proceeds will go to the Southern Poverty Law Center

Thanks for reading, please share wherever you like! 

Collaboration with @JuliusGoat | Melissa Mendes on Patreon

White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.

I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.

Whiteness protected me from many kinds of hostility, distress and violence, which I was being subtly trained to visit in turn upon people of color.

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

The white privilege concept wasn’t new, of course, nor was it uniquely Peggy’s, a fact she has explained over and over with great humility through the years. Scores of People of Color throughout the brutal history of European colonization had spoken and written about the concept of white privilege for generations before Peggy wrote about the power whiteness afforded her. W.E.B. DuBois, Gloria Anzaldúa (whose book, Borderlands: The New Mestiza, knocked me on my proverbial hind-end and changed everything I thought I knew about social justice), James Baldwin, Harold Cruse, RaynaGreen, Hinmatóowyalahtq’it (also known as Chief Joseph): Each, despite never using the term, wrote or spoke about white privilege before doing so was hip; when nobody grew wealthy writing and lecturing about white privilege; and, in some cases, when speaking truth to white power put People of Color at grave risk. Rayna Green continues to do so today. Still—and this, in and of itself, is a marker of privilege—it took Peggy’s essay to plant the concept firmly into the mainstream “diversity” lexicon, which is another way of saying White people seemed intrigued enough by the knapsack not to dismiss it. And so the notion of “white privilege” stuck; it appears as though it’s here to stay.

Complicating “White Privilege”: Race, Poverty, and the Nature of the Knapsack

“Here, then, is the rub: We, in the white privilege brigade, often, and somewhat generically, in my opinion, like to say that racism is about power. That word, power, might be the most often-spoken word in conversations about white privilege and schools. Rarely, though, do we speak to the nature of power beyond the types of privilege so eloquently expounded upon by Peggy [McIntosh]. This is where critical race theory, with its frameworks for deconstructing racism, has flown past the white privilege discourse. Critical race theorists centralize the fundamental questions too often left unasked in conversations about white privilege: What, exactly, does power mean in a capitalistic society? Why, in a capitalistic society, do people and institutions exert power and privilege? What are they after?

Complicating “White Privilege”: Race, Poverty, and the Nature of the Knapsack

Taken together, McIntosh’s list reveals a privilege she never explicitly states: the privilege to feel normal.

10 Examples That Prove White Privilege Protects White People in Every Aspect Imaginable – Everyday Feminism

The Privilege of Obliviousness

To be white in America means not having to think about it.

James Baldwin

The ease of not being aware of privilege is an aspect of privilege itself, what has been called “the luxury of obliviousness” (known in philosophy as “epistemic privilege”). Awareness requires effort and commitment, which makes it a form of privilege, having the attention of lower-status individuals without the need to give it in return. African Americans, for example, have to pay close attention to whites and white culture and get to know them well enough to avoid displeasing them, since whites control jobs, schools, government, the police, and other sources of power. Privilege, however, gives whites much less reason to pay attention to African Americans or how racial oppression affects their lives. In other words, as James Baldwin put it, “To be white in America means not having to think about it.”

Privilege, Power, and Difference

But it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.

The Fire Next Time

Being Legible: Legibility as Social Status, Situational Privilege, and Belonging

I have written a lot about legibility as a social status. Being legible is a kind of situational privilege.

Legibility is not the same as visibility. We often confuse the two and our discourse is poorer for the conflation. Being legible is very relational. It happens in relationship to other people. That makes it about social exchanges, or that stuff that coheres our society. When I am visible, you can see me in the way you can see a dog or a lamppost. I am socially alive, as it were. I am a category and I exist.

Being legible requires other people to have the ability to make sense of me. That means I am a thing that exists but that is also supposed to exist, in a given space or conversation or exchange.

Why I Hate* California – essaying

Tressie McMillan Cottom is a fount of new ways to think. As neurominorities, we are thirsty for legibility. With legibility comes belonging.

Authenticity is our purest freedom.

The Journey of Undoing: An open letter to who needs it — SITI Girl Miami

The privilege of being oneself is a gift many take for granted, but for the autistic person, being allowed to be oneself is the greatest and rarest gift of all.

Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Children: For parents of the newly diagnosed

The freedom to BE, fully seen AND heard in all my glory is my heart’s deepest request. This is a prayer, self-love letter, a final notice to my inner critic, one more voice in the echo—thank you for witnessing my purest form.

The Journey of Undoing: An open letter to who needs it — SITI Girl Miami

All human beings have the same innate need: We long to belong.

The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety

Temporal Privilege: We Do Not Have the Luxury to Wait

We are prioritizing the comfort of the people who are most resistant instead of prioritizing the discomfort the most marginalized people in the institution experience.

Equity Pitfalls

Every person who is struggling right now does not have the luxury to wait. We are literally dying.

Leadership Training Institute 2020 | Dominique Hollins – YouTube

Going at the Pace of the Most Resistant – We are prioritizing the comfort of the people who are most resistant instead of prioritizing the discomfort the most marginalized people in the institution experience.

Equity Pitfalls

How much time do you want, for your, “progress”?

James Baldwin
I don't trust you any more
You keep on saying "Go slow!"
"Go slow!"
But that's just the trouble
"Do it slow"
"Do it slow"
Mass participation
"Do it slow"
"Do it slow"
Do things gradually
"Do it slow"
But bring more tragedy
"Do it slow"
Why don't you see it
Why don't you feel it
I don't know
I don't know
You don't have to live next to me
Just give me my equality

Mississippi Goddam by Nina Simone

“Mississippi Goddam” was banned in several Southern states. Boxes of promotional singles sent to radio stations around the country were returned with each record broken in half.

Simone performed the song in front of 10,000 people at the end of the Selma to Montgomery marches when she and other black activists, including Sammy Davis Jr.James Baldwin and Harry Belafonte crossed police lines.

Mississippi Goddam – Wikipedia

I don’t trust nobody anymore

They keep on saying “go slow”

But that’s just the trouble (Too slow)

Mississippi Goddam by Nina Simone

Further reading,