Prejudice is one thing, but privilege is another. They are, despite what we think of these two words, not the same thing. Prejudice is a set of predetermined ideas that someone has about a member of a group of people that see that particular subset of the population in a negative light. Privilege, on the other hand, is the concept that someone’s affiliation or membership of a particular group grants them automatic rights as a member of a dominant group of the population. So with racism, for instance, would be responsible for certain prejudices and stereotypes by white members of the population while racism is what allows white people to be privileged as they’re ethnicity or skin color do not automatically grant cause of suspicion or stereotypes associated with people of color. However, this entails, also, the idea that racism can be done against white people. However, this perception is wrong.
White people dominate all facets of American society and are seen as the norm, undoubtedly, because in most states, white people are the majority. That entitles white people to an automatic degree of privilege and immunity from most negative stereotypes, most of which are purported by white people themselves. So when I claim that white people cannot face racism, I mean that their degree of privilege in this society does not entitle them to face actual racism because they are who our standards of beauty, wealth, scholarship, etc. are based upon. Systematically, the game is rigged against people of color towards white people. Because the system itself is rigged towards white people, individual instances of what may be perceived as racism or reverse discrimination, while examples of prejudice, are not examples of racism when the system is rigged towards them. However, in certain parts of the world, white people may experience racism when the system is rigged against them but, for the most part, white people are either venerated or seen as the standard for global citizens. This sense of automatic entitlement allows white people to face prejudice but not racism because they are systematically at an advantage.
The same can be stated about men. Women cannot be sexist to men. They may hate men, not trust men, or have malice towards men but, likely, this is due to the position of power that men have in many societies. While, of course, prejudice is unacceptable in all forms and men can face prejudice, men created the system, the patriarchy, the laws that allow general societal discrimination against women. Men hold privileges such as: being able to walk in a dark parking lot without fear, the ability to get paid more than most women in a similar position, and even a plethora of excuses for how a “rape” they may have committed was not their responsibility but the woman’s. As men, we generally don’t feel body-shamed, our work is generally accepted and we are generally seen as competent without much question, and our sexuality is not generally judged. However, women face many societal barriers. While some women feminists do hold prejudice against men, they are not being sexist, they are just being ignorant. The difference is that men are expected to be the makers of society while women have, for centuries, been relegated to subjugation. This is why women cannot be sexist to men, because men made society, laws, and other governing bodies that allow for the subjugation of women in the present and the past.
I can make the same argument for ableism, colorism, income, and other forms of discrimination that exist within society. However, the bottom-line is that when you are part of the group that holds the positions of power in society, in government, in wealth, and in general, you are not entitled to claim discrimination based on that characteristic that allows you entitlement. You cannot experience racism when you’re white, sexism when you’re a man, ableism without a disability, income discrimination because you’re rich, you simply cannot experience such discrimination because of your privilege, but you can experience prejudice because of it. And while prejudice is something we should fight against, we should also recognize that we have privilege as members of a certain group and we cannot be good citizens without doing so. However, we also must not forget the intersections. For instance, white women who are quick to judge low-income black men for factors such as their dress, their music, or their culture do not understand that modes of subjugation made an environment wherein many black men do not feel comfortable in the mainstream and created their own culture in order to feel their sense of identity and belonging. While sexism should be addressed, white women do not get to “call out” low-income black men for their culture when their culture is all they have, at least without learning more about their culture in a respectable manner.
So basically, we must all know how privilege affects our lives (if we have it in any way), how to stop our own prejudices, and how the intersections of privilege and prejudice and identity works within our society.