On privilege and power


There is a thing about privilege and power that I don’t think we say often enough, whether the conversation is about gay marriage, or women in tech, or any of the dozens of other places the battle for equality is being fought.

The objection of the privileged when people demand equality is basically “but this will make me less powerful!” It’s often expressed as “this is trampling my rights!” or “reverse discrimination!” or other phrases that sound like they might be reasonable but aren’t. Campaigners for equality often respond along the lines of “giving us equal rights doesn’t take yours away. Giving us power doesn’t diminish yours.”

But honestly, that’s not true. Power is a relative measure. If I get more, you have less. If your rights include excluding me from places, then including me takes that right away. We gain nothing by denying this.

So here’s the thing we should say more clearly: yes, this will make you less powerful. Yes, we are taking some of your rights away. That’s okay. You are too powerful, and you have more rights than you deserve.

And then at least we can stop having this circular argument.