This is my working definition for using the suffix ism to name the prejudice associated with a different privileges.
Isms are used to form names relating to the benefit though privilege of a certain group described by the root word, or a pattern of behavior or a social norm that benefits members of the group indicated by the root word.
It can be a confusing definition!
The root words describe the spectrum of a privilege.
I am thinking about the the privileges that I experienced by putting together the following list of privileges | isms.
- white (living in NYC, U.S. with documentation as a native English speaker) | benefitting from racism
- man | benefitting from sexism
- straight (cisgender and married to a woman) | benefiting from heterosexism
- able-bodied (and relatively mentally healthy) | benefiting from ableism
- debt-free and paid a living wage l benefiting from classism
- 30 years old | benefiting from ageism
This list is probably incomplete and perhaps wrongly phrased, if there more effective or useful ways to describe these, I am very happy to hear about them.
Individual-level vs. Systemic-level
My use of this model is drawn directly from Race Forward’s Moving the Race Conversation Forward. The report clearly presents research, analysis, and suggestions that “[aim] to reshape and reform the way we talk about race and racism in our country.”
Isms play out like this:
- Internal [Individual-level]
“lies within individuals. These are our private beliefs and biases.”*
- Interpersonal [Individual-level]
“occurs between individuals. These are biases when individuals interact with others.”*
- Institutional [Systemic-level]
“occurs within institutions and systems of power.”*
- Structural [Systemic-level]
“is bias among institutions and across society”*
most obviously in the media*[pt 1, pg 3; Moving the Race Conversation Forward]
A place to start
Between privileges and isms we have tools to have a shared conversation about pushing back against privileges and isms.
Conversations that use these tools to make more justice in the world is the process that I think of as a solidarity of machine. It’s the work of folks with privilege to stand in solidarity with folks who don’t have privilege.
I hope that it’s possible to use the spaces in which you don’t experience privilege to build empathy. Empathy is the power that keeps the machine running.