Explain the relationship between racism and privilege.

Expert Answers
kateanswers eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Privilege is a certain sense of immunity, right, or freedom granted to a person, and this plays a major role in society. In an egalitarian society, privilege does not really exist because all members of the group are treated equally. In a stratified society, privilege is limited to a certain portion of society or at least made more difficult for some to attain. Race is an unfortunately common factor in "justifying" social stratification, especially in cultures where there is a history of colonialism or slavery.

Racism is the devaluation and discrimination of people of a particular "racial" group, typically distinguished by physical characteristics like skin, hair, and eye color. While organizing people into certain groups based on shared physical characteristics is not an act of violence on its own, the conflation of arbitrary values and characteristics and the devaluation or preference for certain physical traits is. In societies where race is a factor in stratification or access to privilege, these physical characteristics can enable or hinder a person's agency in life. 

The allocation of privilege based on race relies on false justification through the conflation of arbitrary values with visible characteristics. To avoid using real racial myths, imagine you live in a society where people have wildly colored hair. Red, blue, purple, orange, green, any color you can think of. Now imagine it's really valuable in this society to go to flight school and become a pilot, but people with green hair are often denied entry into flight school based on the "justification" that people with green hair are naturally bad pilots. I understand this is a pretty ridiculous sounding example, but it demonstrates just how ridiculous it is to conflate arbitrary characteristics like job performance with someone's physical traits.