Here is a very good, representative list of experiences that one can check off or not. Some are positive, others are irritating, and some are infuriating for those who experience them. The purpose of the list is (in part) to help one realize how good/challenged/frustrated/damaged one’s life is.
But note that the list packages all of the experiences under the “privilege” label. In some intellectual circles, the concept of privilege is being broadened and leveraged for ideological reasons, and one should be aware of the re-packaging.
A genuine privilege is a benefit granted by authoritative others. Its features are that it is: (a) not earned, (b) not given out equally, and (c) social-hierarchical in origin.
* You mom lets you stay up an hour past your normal bedtime.
* The owner of a health club that you belong to allows you to bring in a guest for free.
* You’re invited to speak at a fancy event, and you begin by saying “It’s an honor and a privilege to be here.”
Now return to the 100-item list and note that it ranges across experiences of travel, insults, financial stresses, crimes, biology, cultural attitudes, and more. And note how the few of the items meet the criteria of a privilege. For example:
* International travel: Suppose you work hard, save money, and buy a flight to Mexico. Did you earn your trip or are you being given a privilege?
* Name-calling: You haven’t been called a “pansy” or a “towel-head.” Is that manners or a privilege?
* Physical safety: No one has beaten you up or raped you. Is that respect for rights or have you been granted a privilege?
* Nutrition: Your mom and dad fed you regularly. Is that their good parenting or your privilege?
The list conflates at least four distinct phenomena: natural advantages, earned advantages, civil treatment, and privileges. Their distinctness is not that difficult to grasp conceptually. And thoughtful people have good discussions about their boundaries and significance regularly. So why the package-deal? One suspects that the real purposes of “privilege” lists are to induce feelings of guilt or shame in anyone who has a good life and to justify resentment and anger in anyone who feels “unprivileged.”
Conceptual sloppiness is one thing. But intentional conceptual sloppiness is a highly irresponsible thing. Yes, some people are better off than others, and yes, some people suffer, sometimes undeservedly. So we all need to work continually at fine-tuning our understanding of how the world works, including the ways in which the differences between people can have unfair or otherwise immoral sources. But let’s make sure our language captures the different causal stories involved — and let’s not attempt to avoid the hard moral arguments with linguistic tricks.