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Topic 3: Privilege

The topic of privilege can make us feel uncomfortable and even defensive. We often associate the concept with certain groups in society, particularly in relation to race, gender and sexual orientation. But in many ways, don't we all have privilege? Privilege can be defined as the rights, advantages and protections available to a particular individual or groups of people. Though people benefit from privilege, they often don't do anything to obtain it because privilege is granted based on membership to a specific group. Becoming a member of that group may not be intentional. Sports highlights the ways in which athletes have leveraged their platform to advocate for those less privileged than themselves. It's only when we're aware of our own privilege that we can use it for good. Privilege gives us the power and influence to assist those who do not have similar advantages.

"Privilege is not in and of itself bad; what matters is what we do with privilege...Privilege does not have to be negative, but we have to share our resources and take direction about how to use our privilege in ways that empower those who lack it." — bell hooks

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Dr. Bernice King walk together during the RISE Civil Rights Tour of Atlanta.

RISE Perspectives

Using the Power in Your Privilege

By Kim Miller

Many would prefer to avoid the topic of privilege. Like conversations on politics and religion, talking about privilege can sometimes make us uncomfortable, frustrated and defensive.

The notion of privilege forces us to reconsider the role that hard work and other choices we've made have truly contributed to our success. That can be a sobering thought, and perhaps why it makes us uncomfortable.

What's true, though, is that to varying degrees, we all have privilege. However, the disadvantages people face as a result of not having certain privileges can vary greatly and have severe consequences.

Those who are privileged often enjoy better access to a quality education, health insurance or housing, but having privilege goes beyond the things money can buy.

RISE Vice President of Programs, Kim Miller, moderates a panel with the Golden State Warriors, local youth and law enforcement.

Privilege can also mean that a doctor is more likely to run diagnostic tests or provide life-saving treatments. Privilege can be the difference between life and death during an encounter with police. It can also determine who gets the job interview, promotion or raise.

Fortunately, the more we understand privilege, its consequences and its power, the better positioned we are to use that privilege for good and to address critical issues in society.

Privilege can be defined as the rights, advantages and protections available to a particular individual or groups of people. It is often not something that can be earned, but instead is granted based on an innate aspect of your identity that affords you membership in a specific group.

For example, we don't have control over our race or age. The fact that these types of social identifiers are usually more visible than others often means they are the most prominent determinants of our privilege. White men often have different, more powerful forms of privilege than minority groups and older people are often assumed to be more knowledgeable than those who are younger.

Many of the privileges available to certain groups are rooted in historical structures of race, gender or sexual orientation. However, privilege isn't only about demographics. If it were, then someone like me, a black woman, could argue that I don't have privilege. But when I reflect and dig a bit deeper, I know there are ways I'm also privileged.

I was fortunate to grow up in a two-parent household, which gave me advantages over some of my peers. While I worked hard in college and now in my professional career, some of the privileges I was granted as a child impacted my adult life. I've also gained new privileges along the way. In some cases, my privilege has meant that someone else wasn't able to experience certain advantages and benefits.

Benefiting from your privilege doesn't necessarily mean you didn't work hard or are undeserving. Thinking about privilege this way is what tends to make people defensive or uncomfortable about the subject. However, we should be careful not to overlook privilege as simply a fact of life we have no control over. Privilege gives us the power and influence to assist those who do not have similar advantages.

Look at NBA All-Star Kyle Korver. His piece in The Players' Tribune, Privileged, gave readers a personal look at his experiences as a white male. Korver shares his perspective on racism and privilege and how he feels a responsibility to act because of the privilege he has. The story received national attention and sparked a dialogue on privilege and racism in America, and serves as a great example of how one person can use their privilege in a positive way to impact others.

Addressing privilege is not a responsibility that can be left to only one type of person – one race or one gender. There are times when we all have privilege.

Athletes, young and old, have unique privileges. They have a voice and a platform to influence their community. When they harness their privilege effectively, they can be tremendously impactful. Throughout history, athletes have used their privilege to spur social change. They have stepped up to help pave the way for desegregation, criminal justice reform, policies to address pay inequities, and more.

I hope you'll take time to explore your own privilege, but know that acknowledging it is just the start. Go beyond reflection by considering the ways you can use the power associated with your privilege to give access and provide opportunities to others. The action you take can make a difference that not only changes someone's individual circumstance, but may also lead to a more equitable society.

Kim Miller is RISE's Vice President, Programs.

We all have privilege, and with privilege comes power to make a difference.

Complete this activity to learn more about your privilege and how you can use it to help others.

Go to Activity

Click here to see the anonymous results of the submissions we've received so far.

Watch RISE Board Member Scott Pioli and St. Thomas University Student-Athlete Maria Vega complete and discuss the above privilege activity.

Share Your Privilege

Privilege is a complex subject. Different aspects of our identities might afford us certain privileges, but they also might disadvantage us. We asked sports and community leaders to talk about their experience with privilege. How have you benefited or been hurt by privilege? How can you use your privilege to address social inequities?

Share your perspective on privilege and how you can use your own privilege for good. Create your own video and tag us @RISEtoWIN with the #LearnToRISE.

Ros Gold-Onwude

ESPN Basketball Analyst

Etan Thomas

NBA Legend and Author

Hear Etan Thomas' full interview on Champions of Change: The RISE Podcast

Seth Waugh

CEO, PGA of America

Hear Seth Waugh's full interview on Champions of Change: The RISE Podcast


Hear from the RISE team and other members of the sports community as they share how the concept of privilege has affected them and why understanding it is an important part of creating change.

Learn More to Do More

Check out this activity on Understanding Power from RISE's curriculum. Our privileges afford us each certain advantages, and understanding them and the power that provides puts us in a position to use our privilege for good. Reflect on your own privilege, influence and power and how you can use it to create positive change.

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