From Safe Congregation Handbook, Patricia Hoertdoerfer and Frederic Muir, eds. (Boston: Unitarian Universalist Association, 2005).
Privilege operates on personal, cultural, and institutional levels to give advantages, favors, and benefits to those who have the greatest access to resources in our society. For persons with privilege, it is characteristically invisible, the advantages it gives are unearned, individuals who have it are unconscious of it, and the advantage it gives is the direct result of the oppression of others.
Oppression exists when one social group knowingly or unconsciously exploits another social group for its own benefit. Social oppression is an interlocking system that involves ideological control as well as domination and control of the social institutions and resources of society, resulting in a condition of privilege for the dominant social group relative to the disenfranchisement and exploitation of the subordinate social group.
Privilege and oppression and power and vulnerability are relative and contextual. A person has power or is vulnerable in relation to another person in a given context. Power is a measure of one person's or one's group's resources. Those who have greater resources than others have power relative to them; those who have fewer resources are vulnerable relative to them.
Sources of Power
Sources of Vulnerability
Ability, large physical size, strength
Disability; small size, lack of strength
Status as adults or middle-aged people
Youth or old age
Wealth, job skills, credentials
Poverty, lack of skills and credentials
Knowledge and information
Lack of knowledge and information, lack of access to these
Status as white (Caucasian)
Status as people of color (African American, Asian American, Hispanic/Latino/a, Native American, and so on)
Status as male
Status as female
Conformity of gender identity with biological sex characteristics
Nonconformity of gender identity with biological sex characteristics
Life experience, stability
Inexperience, lack of coping skills
Status as professional, leader, clergy
Status as client, congregant, student
Status as heterosexual people
Status as gay, lesbian, or bisexual people
Support, community, contacts
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Last updated on Friday, December 9, 2011.
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