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Here are some definitions about POWER, PRIVILEGE and OPPRESSION.

Below are some definitions of power, privilege and oppression that I use in my work. Take a look. If you'd like to use any of the definitions or examples below, please do! But be sure to credit me or when you do. Thanks!

POWER: The ability to influence and/or act.

Let’s break that down.

Individuals have power, which includes free will and ability to make decisions. But there are also many other types of power:

  • History has power

  • Laws have power.

  • Ideas have power.

  • Money has power.

These and other types of power affect the amount and type of influence, or power, particular individuals have.

PRIVILEGE: Unearned benefits given to members of one social group as a result of the systematic targeting or marginalization of another social group.

Let’s break that down.

Privilege is benefits that people don’t earn, but get just because of who they are or are perceived to be.

For example, if you work hard to build up your wealth, you receive the earned benefit of getting to buy things. But if you are perceived to be wealthy, you receive the unearned benefit (privilege) of being treated well by society, like by salespeople or the police, even if you do not spend the money you earned.

Systematic targeting and marginalization means it doesn’t happen randomly or by chance, but that privilege is doled out according to a part of a fixed system, one which does damage to other people. And because people with privilege get more, other people get less just because of who they are.

OPPRESSION: The systematic targeting or marginalization of one social group by another social group for the benefit of the more powerful social group.

Let’s break that down.

Oppression happens when a group of people, categorized by a shared identity, experience or trait, with more systemic power (people with privilege) use their power to harm a different group of people.

There are intentional acts of oppression and unintentional acts of oppression. Oppression happens even if the people with the privileged identity or trait don’t mean for it to happen.

Bias, discrimination and prejudice are not necessarily oppression, except when bias, discrimination and prejudice benefits the social group with more systemic power and damages the social group with less social power.

PDF: Click to download a printable resource

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