The concept of privilege is a relatively new term; the term started in 1910 from a W.E.B. DuBois essay The Souls of White Folks. Social privilege is defined as an exclusive set of unearned benefits held by only a certain group of society. These perks create and perpetuate a system of social inequality, creating a caste system or type of social hierarchy. There is inequality in power balances, there are social struggles, there are haves and have-nots. Individuals who have privilege are not disenfranchised and it is harder to notice you have privilege versus noticing that you are oppressed. Privilege gives you comfort and oppression is troublesome, forcing you to notice what is wrong.
I often talk, and read, about privilege in terms of race and gender. “White Privilege” and “male privilege” are now commonplace terms, if you use those phrases, members of that societal group tend to feel affronted. However, it is limiting to only discuss privilege in the context of gender and race. There is ability privilege (are you disabled or able-bodied), there is class privilege (economic class and social class), there is education privilege (access to higher education and the benefits it confers), gender identity, religious privilege, passing privilege (can you assimilate into another group), and sexuality. It also would behoove me to mention the concept of intersectionality and how it can amplify or decrease the amount of privilege an individual/group can have.
I type up these definitions to discuss how you and I have privilege and why we need to check it.