Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn. The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of love back in our hearts. Love is the essential reality and our purpose on earth. To be consciously aware of it, to experience love in ourselves and others, is the meaning of life. Meaning does not lie in things. Meaning lies in us. — Marianne Williamson

Privilege has been described as “unearned rights, benefits, immunity and favours that are bestowed on individuals and groups solely on the basis of their race, culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability or other key characteristic.”1 Another form of privilege is socioeconomic class and caste. In each type of privilege, the privileged group is considered the norm and others are considered to be different or outside of the norm. The culturally dominant group defines the rules and acceptable behaviors; others are expected to comply. Privilege is typically invisible to those who possess it. It can be thought of as “just the way things are” or “the way things should be.” Some people are part of several privileged groups, while others may be members of few or none.

Male privilege and related power are associated with unequal pay for equal work (with women’s pay less than men’s on average), higher rates of employment for men than women, more men in top leadership/decision-making positions than women, domestic and sexual violence targeted against women, and human rights violations targeting women—to name a few.

In the global north, Christianity is the dominant religion. As a result, Christians hold more political positions and control more legislative decisions, so they hold more power and privilege. White American males have historically been the dominant group in power, and the history of race relations in the U.S. has resulted in the distinctions of white and people of color. This is also true in countries in which Europeans established colonies where they continue to have a powerful and privileged presence, such as Australia and South Africa. Interestingly, though able to see and refer to the race of others, some white people are not comfortable with self-identifying or being identified as “white” and may deny having a “culture.”

Along with being the dominant group in a society, come power and privilege. White privilege has been defined by Adams, Bell and Griffin (2007) as:

“The concrete benefits of access to resources and social rewards and the power to shape the norms and values of society those whites receive, unconsciously or consciously, by virtue of their skin color in a racist society.”

Peggy McIntosh, in her article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” says:

“I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group from birth…As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage. …I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious.”6

McIntosh describes a number of things associated with white privilege that she previously was not aware of and had taken for granted. Just a few of the 50 she describes are listed below:

If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.

I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.

I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.

I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

Blogger Barry Deutch describes an internet acquaintance who says, “The first big privilege which whites, males, people in upper economic classes, the able bodied, the straight (I think one or two of those will cover most of us) can work to alleviate is the privilege to be oblivious to privilege.”7

How do we increase our awareness of privilege? Without dividing people, how do we bring conscious awareness to power and privilege as a way to build authentic relationships with people who are different?

1 McIntosh, P. (1988), “White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack,” Independent Student, Winter 1990, volume 49, number 2.

2 Retrieved from:

Excerpt from Coaching for Transformation by Lasley, Kellogg, Michaels and Brown.

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