Blog: So You’ve Been Told You Need to “Check Your Privilege.” Now what?

Note: A number of blogs and articles have been included on Leap21 to provide a glimpse into important ideas and discussions taking place with respect to sexual violence. In this essay Nathan Palmer provides some helpful suggestions for how to deal with personal social privilege and strategies for reducing social inequality in general.

Have you recently been told that you need to, “check your privilege”? Has someone just told you that they experienced something you said or did as a micro-aggression? Did you have a conversation about race, sexuality, religion, etc. go horribly wrong? Are people upset with you? Are you trying unsuccessfully to convince everyone that, “that’s not what I meant”?

I feel you. I’ve been there myself more times than I care to admit. As a white, heterosexual, middle-class, able-bodied man I have most if not all of the social privileges a person can have. Getting “called out” about your social privilege is not fun, but it can be a learning experience, if you let it be. Here are some strategies for how to make the best out of these uncomfortable moments.

I have to learn to check my privilege; not because I am a bad person – but because I haven’t been taught to see the many ways people are discriminated against.

  • Start by actually listening – when people tell you that your words or actions are hurtful or excludes them, it’s easy to bunker down and get defensive. If you try to convince them they ‘got it wrong’, don’t be surprised if they try just as hard to convince you that your social privilege is real and creating problems. Instead of getting defensive, try to really listen. Repeat back what you hear them saying.
  • Accept that other people experience the world differently  – How can people see reality so differently? The answer lies in how our social location (i.e. our gender, race, class, sexuality, etc. and how it relates to everyone else’s statuses in our community) affects our experiences. Unless a person in one group sees discrimination happening right in front of them, then the person is unlikely to be aware it’s happening at all, because it isn’t happening to them.
  • Move from getting “called out” to getting feedback - it’s never fun to have the spotlight put on you for something negative, but if you don’t get feedback, how can you know when you are hurting others?  Develop appreciation for those around you who have the courage to hold you accountable for your words and actions and are willing to have a difficult conversation. Move away from the idea that you are being “called out” for your social privilege. Instead, think of it as feedback from someone who cares you and the community. Change is always possible, but it takes time and effort. Be the change you want in the world.


  • Watch this video by Sasheer Zamata for a great discussion on learning to see privilege.
  • In this video - Michele L. Sullivan talks about the impossibility of knowing another person’s experience and the importance seeing that to ask for help is a sign of strength.

Further Reading & Resources