The Concept of Privilege: A Critical Appraisal
Format of Original
Philosophical Society of South Africa
South African Journal of Philosophy
Original Item ID
In this essay, I examine the use of the concept of privilege within the critical theoretical discourse on oppression and liberation (with a particular focus on white privilege and antiracism in the USA). In order to fulfill the rhetorical aims of liberation, concepts for privilege must meet what I term the ‘boundary condition’, which demarcates the boundary between a privileged elite and the rest of society, and the ‘ignorance condition’, which establishes that the elite status and the advantages it confers are not publicly recognised or affirmed. I argue that the dominant use of the concept of privilege cannot fulfill these conditions. As a result, while I do not advocate for the complete abandonment of the rhetoric of privilege, I conclude that it obscures as much as it illuminates, and that the critical theoretical discourse on liberation and oppression should be suspicious of its use.