Privilege: Expanding on Marilyn Frye's 'Oppression'
Journal of Social Philosophy, Vol. 29, No. 3, Winter 1998
9 Pages Posted: 29 Jan 2009
Date Written: 1998
This essay serves as both a response and embellishment of Marilyn Frye's now classic essay "Oppression." It is meant to pick up where this essay left off and to make connections between oppression, as Frye defines it, and the privileges that result from institutional structures. This essay tries to clarify one meaning of privilege that is lost in philosophical discussions of injustice. I develop a distinction between unearned privileges and earned advantages. Clarifying the meaning of privilege as unearned structural advantage makes visible the role white privilege plays in maintaining complex systems of domination such as racism, sexism, heterosexism and classism. Using a critical reading of both Frye (1983) and Young's (1990) accounts of oppression as a springboard, I develop a definition of privilege as a particular class of unearned advantages.
I distinguish my account of privilege from standard legal and philosophical definitions of privilege. The general distinction I make between privileges and advantages rests on three interrelated claims: (a) that benefits granted by privilege are always unearned and conferred systemically to members of dominant social groups; (b) that privileges granted to members of dominant groups solely on the basis of their membership in these groups is never justifiable; and, (c) that privileges have an unconditional value that can be explained not only in terms of immunities, but also in terms of additional benefits.
Keywords: White Privilege, Oppression, Marilyn Frye
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