Topic 3

Understanding Rank, Privilege and Intersectionalities

Rank is a way of talking about status, privilege and power that people get from different things. Some examples of these things are age, where we live, the kind of place we live, our skin colour, our religion, the way our physical beauty is perceived, and of course, gender and sex. High rank often comes from membership to a dominant culture or grouping e.g. straight, healthy, and male.

Not aware of our rank and privilege

Rank is often inherited and comes more from the circumstances into which we are born, rather than our own efforts. For example, if you are considered beautiful, you get rank. We are all often unconscious of our rank and privilege. The saying goes, that if you don’t have to think about it, you’ve got rank and privilege around it. People who have never had to think about whether the sex they were assigned at birth is the same as their gender identity, get rank and power from this.

High rank means we can dismiss those of lower rank

Rank is not inherently bad. All of us have some kind of rank whether we are aware of it or not. But we tend to be more conscious of the rank we do not have, than the rank that we do have. Usually when we are unconscious of our high rank, we have the luxury or privilege of being able to ignore or dismiss the concerns of others. We can say: “This is not my problem.” “The out-come doesn’t not affect us.” We can judge those of lower rank as being irrational, hot-headed or even abnormal and delusional.

Rank in some areas but not in others

Remembering our personal and collective experiences of lower rank can help remind us of what it is like to be on the receiving end of unconscious rank. Many of us have rank in some areas, but not in others. Some of us are excluded in many different ways. For example, being born disabled, into a poor household, and being gay.

The concept of “intersectionalities” or the intersections of different privileges, ranks and oppressions holds that human lives cannot be explained by taking into account single categories, such as gender, race, and socio-economic status. Relationships and power dynamics between social locations and processes (e.g., racism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, ageism, and sexism) are linked.

They can also change over time and be different depending on geographic settings. People’s lives are multi-dimensional and complex. Lived realities are shaped by different factors and social dynamics operating together.

Developing awareness of our own rank and power is important for creating safe inclusive school environments. Complete the power shuffle activity in section 4 which helps to explore these concepts. We cannot give away our rank so we had best use it for our own benefit and that of others with an attitude of humility and gratitude for the fortunate position in which we find ourselves.