Working Toward Social Justice: Understanding Privilege and Oppression

At Center for Community Solutions our mission is to end relationship and sexual violence by being a catalyst for caring communities and social justice. We carry out our mission through programs and services that strive to honor the dignity and equal worth of all human beings. We understand that in order to foster social justice and create communities, organizations, and societies that embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion, we must start by understanding the systems we seek to change through an examination of our cultural humility. At the heart of cultural humility is being aware of our biases, prejudices, and privileges.

We are here to learn ways in which we can all stand up for social justice and against violence. We invite you to join us as we acknowledge that we have a lot to learn and that a large number of us belong to particular social identities that have been given privilege, additional advantages, and in many cases, unearned benefits.

Let’s start by building a foundation of understanding, of shared knowledge around privilege and oppression.

We understand that every person has multiple identities, made up from their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, age, nationality, and abilities or disabilities. Each identity holds advantages and disadvantages, based on social biases, assumptions, and prejudices that have been created over many years. The privileges, which, in many cases, are unearned, grant the individual an increased level of social power.  The disadvantages, or oppression, result in the individual having less access to resources and opportunities, and, in many cases, are seen as inferior, have less social power, and face discrimination and violence.

The injustice grows due to the fact that there are groups of individuals with multiple identities holding less privilege. For example, a genderqueer Black woman will experience greater challenges than a white, heterosexual woman. This is due to the intersectionality between social identities and oppression that interact with one another, adding layers of disadvantages to the individual or individuals.

Before we continue, it is important that we understand the difference between prejudice and oppression. A prejudice is an assumption made about an individual or groups based on their social identities. Throughout our lives, we are exposed to overt and subtle messages that perpetuate these prejudices, where we might end up assuming something about an individual simply because they belong to that group or we may even start believing the messages shared about our own identities. Over time, these prejudices and messages create beliefs or attitudes that reflect positive or negative qualities about an individual, encouraging them to behave or treat others according to those stereotypes.

Oppression occurs when individuals use their qualities that grant them certain privileges and power at the expense of others. Over time, and with the support of social and cultural conditioning, these occurrences, can start being viewed as normal. This is why it’s so important for all individuals to challenge these messages, in themselves and with others, to stand up against someone making a stereotype, joke, or assumption about an individual based on the way they look or a group they might belong to. When we allow these messages to perpetuate, we not only normalize the occurrence, but through our silence, we are indicating that we agree.

As we shared, this is simply the beginning of a journey we are inviting you to join. A journey where we explore how we can use our privilege to dismantle oppressive systems and stand up for social justice. This is why we are leaving this chart here, where we can all take the opportunity to assess and acknowledge the privilege we may hold. As with most of the work we carry out at CCS, we leave a piece for self-care: acknowledging your privilege does not mean you haven’t worked hard or that you didn’t face any barriers getting to where you are. It’s about understanding that your identities may have helped you along the way, granting you access to resources and advantages that others may not have been able to access.





1. _____  I worry about not having enough    money to pay for housing, food, clothing, or education. 1. _____  I, or my family, can afford to live in a comfortable home and have enough money to meet our needs.
2. _____ I cannot openly talk about who I am dating or in love with. 2. _____ I can openly talk about my partner or loved one.
3. _____ I face physical barriers accessing public buildings and using the transportation systems. 3. _____ I can easily use public buildings and transportation systems.
4. _____ I don’t own a car. 4. _____ I own a car.
5. _____ I cannot afford to travel nationally or internationally, whether it be for pleasure or educational purposes. 5. _____ I can afford to travel, whether it be for pleasure or educational purposes.
6. _____ I worry that people may not hire me because of the color of my skin, the way I look, or my gender. 6. _____ I don’t worry about being hired because of my appearance, color of my skin, or gender.
7. _____ I have a disability. 7. _____ I don’t have a disability.
8. _____ At home, while growing up, my family spoke a language other than English. 8. _____ At home, while growing up, my family spoke English.
9. _____ I worry about being harassed or attacked because of my gender or sexual orientation. 9. _____ I don’t worry about being harassed or attacked because of my gender or sexual orientation.
10. _____ My gender does not match the gender I was assigned at birth. 10. _____ My gender matches the gender I was assigned at birth.
11. _____ I tend to see people of my racial or ethnic group portrayed negatively in newspapers, television, movies, and advertisements. 11. _____ There are many positive images of people from my racial or ethnic group portrayed positively in newspapers, television, movies, and advertisements.
12. _____ Because of money, I feel I have to put up with a number of problematic situations. 12. _____ When problematic situations arise, I tend to have the money to solve them.
13. _____ I need to hide, change, or minimize parts of my identity so I won’t be mistreated. 13. _____ I don’t need to hide, change, or minimize parts of my identity so I won’t be mistreated.
14. _____ I am not white. 14. _____ I am white.
15. _____ I am not a man. 15. _____ I am a man

Adapted from Diane Goodman, 2014

Find interactive/printable chart here


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