Building a FAQ on Privilege and Intersectionality
In a country like India, where blatant oppression of identities is pretty common, talking about privilege can be very controversial. This is so because any discussion on the topic entails a debate on the interrelation of identity and oppression, and the question of "who are the oppressed?" at which point emotions run high. The fact that most out there hardly are aware and also pretty uncomfortable about privilege doesn't make the task of making a case against oppression and bigotry any easier. For instance, a common retort in a discussion on the caste system or affirmative action is "Not all upper caste Hindus are rich", "we don't get any benefits on the basis of our caste" or "I didn't inherit anything from my ancestors. How come I have caste privilege?". This article on Occupy Wall Street explains how hard it is to explain white privilege to poor whites . It is equally difficult to explain caste privilege to a poor caste Hindu male or a middle class caste Hindu male working hard to climb the social ladder. Every discussion with such people leads to an impasse, after which all prospects of civilised and informed arguments get killed.

So I feel it is pretty important for this forum to have a comprehensive FAQ detailing privilege of every kind, along with intersectionality.

I'm attaching a pdf copy of Margaret 'Peggy' McIntosh's article Unpacking The Knapsack Of White Privilege, which is a classic reference used by sociologists and social scientists for a basic understanding of how privilege works. It also available here:

P.S.: Inspired by the link posted on Nirmukta's FB group I feel this forum urgently needs both a genuine discussion on the theories of Privilege and Intersectionality and abovementioned FAQ. We can, as suggested by Arvind Iyer, coopt this ( and this ( for a more detailed and holistic FAQ thread, which I tentatively titled 'FAQ On How To Be a Decent Human Being' smile

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Q. I did not inherit anything from my family and nor do I get anything for free because of my gender/caste/race/ethnicity. I work hard to sustain my and my family's livelihood. What privilege are you talking about?
A. The question should what privilege are *you* talking about? Privilege doesn't necessarily imply material wealth or privy to accumulation of capital and free services. You, my friend, are conflating class privilege to all kind of privilege.

Q. So what is Privilege?
A. Sociologists and social scientists understand privilege to be a collection of unearned benefits, which adds to one's Social Capital, and comes as a default setting to one's association with a certain privileged identity.

Peggy McIntosh's article Unpacking The Knapsack Of White Privilege (attached along with the OP) is considered to be a primer in understanding white privilege and lays the epistemological foundation for privilege at large. It'd be pertinent here to quote her

"As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something which 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 think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. ... I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks. Describing white privilege makes one newly accountable."

Now replace the word 'white', with 'male', 'caste Hindu' or 'Hindi' in the case of India, 'Han' in the case of China, 'Sinhala' in the case of Sri Lanka, 'straight', 'cisgendered' or 'able-bodied' and you might begin to understand the gravity of privilege in the context of modern societies.

It is actually a product of clinging on to ancient institutions within the framework of modern means of production.

Q. How does Privilege actually work?
A. The logic in a simplified manner would be as follows:
If you are decent enough to accept that there are people who are oppressed, then it'd be absurd to believe that there wouldn't be any beneficiary of this oppression, who are not directly involved in the oppression. In fact oppression is as much a subjugation of one to the benefit of the other.
For instance, if women aren't allowed to vote, then naturally men reap the benefits of the disenfranchisement of a little more than half the nation. They become more powerful and dominate the political scene. Or if in Mumbai, Muslims and Dalits are prevented from buying, selling or renting flats wherever they wish to, then caste-Hindus definitely have an advantage in the realty business.
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To forestall or address common misunderstandings, it might be useful to have items in the FAQ highlighting the following:

1. The self-perpetuating nature of privilege
Privilege is unearned but scarcely goes uninherited. Further, the current allocation of privilege in a society is assumed to be worth preserving in system-justifying narratives. Maintaining existing allocations of privilege is treated in such narratives as crucial to maintaining social order itself. Institutions considered central to social stability such as marriage also often lend themselves to the stability of privilege too, and also a concentration of privilege (as discussed earlier here: Part 1 Part 2). A realization that the now ossified privileges may have evolved to serve as guarantees of long-term security for those engaging in socially beneficial behaviors, reveals as a more realistic goal the removal of the limitations which privileges place on social mobility rather than an outright eradication of some reasonable guarantees going by the misnomer of privileges.

2. The situational nature of privilege
The following talk by social geographer Dalel Benbabaali provides illustrations of how privileges enjoyed by communities nominally belong to the same caste can be conditional on their geographical location.
Dominant Caste and Territory in South India, Lecture at Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies

Layered identities, in this case the overlaying of caste and regional identities, effectively operate such that neither one confers or detracts from privileges in isolation. Such illustrations of multiple identities can afford a natural segue into the topic of intersectionality. The same talk itself spends some time on how caste intersects with class in the section outlining the history of Naxal mobilization in Andhra Pradesh.

3. The distinction between privilege and culpability for social injustice
A line that is a staple of any beginning conversation on privilege is, "People with privilege are not necessarily bad people." Privilege as noted above is situational and most often, the situations are not of the concerned individual's choosing, thus ruling those out as grounds for value judgments. Possessing privilege is not by itself a shortfall of character, though being unmindful and in denial of it in the face of evidence can be rightly construed to be. Further, privilege in every instance may not be synonymous with dominance or oppressive stances, and may in some cases may have been a carelessly applied term for some fairly routine rights, as this article also linked above cautions. Therefore it maybe advisable not just tactically but also theoretically, to distinguish reminders to check privilege, from accusations of malicious intent.
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