Science Explains Privilege

Privilege is a long-standing social barrier that has been defined as “an advantage or ‘special right’ available to a select group” meaning that privilege and equality cannot co-exist. Social experiments have tried to illustrate how privilege affects society as a whole.


In 1968, Jane Elliott first conducted her “Blue eyes, brown eyes” experiment in which she told her students that a physical feature meant that they were “superior” due to their blue eyes. In short, the children who were “inferior” began to perform poorly on tests (despite previous performance) and isolated themselves from the “superior” children who developed a sense of arrogance and acted “unpleasant to their inferior classmates” (read more about Elliot’s experiment here).


From Buzzfeed: Nathan Pyle This Teacher Taught His Class A Powerful Lesson About Privilege 2014

In 2014, Buzzfeed’s Nathan Pyle recalled a classroom lesson on privilege demonstrated with a waste bin and some paper (pictured). In short, each student had one shot from their assigned rows of the classroom - those closer to the front represented those with more privilege and those at the back the least privileged (read more of Pyle’s high school account here).


Even more so interesting than the experiments themselves were the reactionary expressions of denial and anger towards the realities of privilege - notably from those with undeniable privilege.


Studies have attempted to relate privilege to health and different life outcomes for decades - even going as far to suggest that privilege (and the social effects) has a negative health impact on all parties. Interestingly, there is speculation over how privilege has shaped science; often the most prominent voices in science have been speculated to be influenced by privileged bias.


While such experiments may never be able to truly embody the effects of long-term privilege on less privileged individuals/communities, they conceptualise the realities of privilege and highlight the effects privilege can have on society as a whole. Within science and society, privilege has become a well-discussed topic; the admittance and acceptance of a person’s privilege not so much.


Comment below the ways in which you think we can deal with societal privilege in a manner conducive to reaching an equal society.


By Tomi Akingbade, Founder

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