Hi, i’m kate burt and i’m sharing information today about privilege about what privilege means what it is, who has it and what we can do with it as a concept in dietetics privilege can be a triggering word for some people. So, let’s all start with a deep breath and an open mind to really try to unpack this idea, and i think that it’s important because with privilege comes opportunity, and so there is so much opportunity in dietetics right now in order to explain what privilege is, i’m Actually, going to start by talking a little bit about what it isn’t, it’s not about you as an individual, it doesn’t describe your individual circumstances and having it or not having it is not your fault, it’s not something that you can opt into or that you can Opt out of and most importantly, it’s not inherently bad. You need not feel guilt or shame about having it, because most of us have some kind of privilege. Privilege is basically an unearned social power, that’s created by structures like policies and in society. It is given to all members of a particular dominant group, so in other words, in plain english, privilege means that there are policies and practices in place that benefit some people more than they benefit other people.
It’S having an unearned advantage in a situation and some people are accommodated, whereas others are alienated. So when we’re unpacking this idea of privilege, we need to think about all of the different ways that privilege exists, because it’s usually invisible to those who have it. It’S just their way of life, the way that their world works, but the holders of privilege are really at an advantage of those who do not have it so to uncover privilege, especially if you are a member of the group that has it, then it really takes A critical examination of systems, the systems that are at play so because there are many different kinds of privilege. I just want to highlight a few of those right now: there’s heterosexual privilege, there’s cisgender, privilege, there’s able-bodied privilege, there’s white privilege, there’s male privilege and the the list really does go on. So you can see that you know multiple identities come with multiple types of privilege or not, and most of us again have one type of privilege or another or many types of privilege in some cases.
So some examples of this um if you’ve never been told in a complimentary way that you sound like somebody of a different race or if you’ve never been mocked for an accent. You’Ve never been told that your name is difficult to pronounce. If you can get married whenever you, whenever you want her to whomever you want to or if you can walk into a bathroom or walk anywhere and know that the bathroom will accommodate your physical body and you’ll be able to use that bathroom or if you can Come and go from this country without concern or excessive paperwork. If you have access to healthcare or if you can practice your religion without fearing persecution, especially publicly, then those are all demonstrations of privilege, um those people who who don’t have to worry about those things. You hold a certain type of privilege and there’s different types embedded in those examples, but um when you have privilege, then you are part of the dominant group and you hold that privilege, because social norms and customs are aligned with your values and your interests when you’re Part of a marginalized group, on the other hand, you don’t quite fit in as well as if you’re part of the dominant group.
So when we think about these kind of big concepts in dietetics, i want to start off with a kind of easier example. Um one that i like to use is that people with no dietary restrictions can walk into a restaurant order, whatever they want off the menu and feel confident that it’s not going to have an immediate impact on their health. Most people probably don’t even think about the challenges that people with food restrictions or food allergies – the the challenges that they face i mean. Maybe we do because we’re registered dietitian Nutritionists, but the average person probably doesn’t even think about that. But people with food or allergies or religious restrictions must consider each of these things.
They have to trust the restaurant that they’re going to to handle food properly. It’S a privilege to be able to walk into a restaurant order casually and eat a meal, and it’s one that many of us take for granted on uh on a regular basis, so that example may feel easy to understand, because, especially as food and Nutrition professionals, i Think we can kind of empathize with the challenges that people with dietary restrictions feel around finding navigating food environments and finding foods that fit their restrictions and that are still healthy for them. Um and when your health is not at stake with every meal, then you really don’t have to worry about it. You don’t have to trust strangers to handle your food carefully um, but so that example is probably a comfortable for most of us. Let’S up the ante a little bit and give it a different example, one of white privilege in dietetics, so white women, particularly those who have a body type, that fits society’s expectations for what a healthy body looks like so generally, that’s lean.
Um can walk into a patient’s room in a clinical setting or you know, wherever can walk into the room with a patient and that patient generally doesn’t question their dietetics knowledge that registered dietitian Nutritionist doesn’t even probably doesn’t even get asked where she got her credentials. Um or or they don’t get mistaken for somebody there to take the food order based on physical appearance alone, a white woman with a body type who fits a healthy profile, looks the part and so they’re assumed to belong, and assuming that somebody belongs, is a demonstration Of unearned credibility, in other words, privilege so people of color or people who don’t have a body to body type, that fits the healthy standard. That society has set they’re not afforded those same assumptions, and so they don’t when they walk into the room. They’Re not automatically. Given that that same level of credibility, and in that example, the privilege is the privilege awarded to that person – is not about that individual or their experiences or their knowledge or their expertise, or how many years they’ve been working at that setting.
It’S not about how hard they worked to become an rdn. The honor and privilege in that example is that is simply the assumption that that person belongs in that room at that time and so again to those who who have privilege it’s often invisible and that’s why it can sometimes be a bad thing. It’S something that those who have it are blind to, and so it really takes a careful examination um in order to uncover it, but it also probably means that you take it for that. Somebody takes it for granted. They may not be able to understand or empathize with the experiences of the non-dominant group if they don’t realize that their privilege exists and obviously being unable to identify with with people who are different than yourself in a professional capacity limits.
Your ability to build relationships with clients or to develop Nutrition, effective Nutrition education. So it’s really important to become aware of to acknowledge and to dismantle privileges, particularly in dietetics and there’s so many opportunities to do this. I really enjoyed reading food and Nutrition magazine registered dietitian Nutritionist stephanie carter provided a great example of the socioeconomic privilege that comes along with being able to eat intuitively. So when i learned about intuitive eating for the first time, which was more or less 15 years ago, i wasn’t taught about limitations. I wasn’t taught that there are some people who this concept works for and other people who this con, who are excluded from eating intuitively.
The opportunity to eat until you’re, full and then to stop assumes that you have enough food to eat. It assumes that you have access to the types of foods that are going to help. You feel full for a long time, and it also assumes that you get to eat when you want to um at your convenience. If you’re hungry you eat now and you eat until you’re full, and that sounds fantastic. But the reality is that not everybody has that opportunity, so, instead of um, instead of promoting intuitive eating as a way that we should all be eating, we really have to acknowledge that only a subset of people can actually eat that way and that subset of people Are those with the economic advantage to do so so white, religion and dietetics can be easier to identify than other forms of privilege, because uh the profession is so overwhelmingly white.
So here are some examples of where we see privilege, particularly in dietetics, when a white person walks into a room of dietetics professionals, most of the other people in the room. Look like that individual. That can give a certain sense of belonging when your identity, physical identity matches the other people in the room. Privilege also exists when the the foods that you eat are taught as part of a core curriculum, not as a course in cultural competence. When you can look at the my plate, graphic and it more or less resembles the way that you eat, you have privilege, because separating foods out onto a dinner plate and including dairy, particularly in a drinking glass, is a normative white is normative for white societies.
So it’s easy to look at my plate and feel like it captures the way that white people eat or even the mediterranean diet, if the mediterranean diet, essentially our gold standard for cultural diets, includes many foods that are familiar to you. You have white privilege so now that we’re on the same page about what privilege is and who has it? I think we have to consider what a more equitable set of conditions looks like so to people with a given privilege, a more equitable, equitable set of conditions. Might look like oppression because if privilege is how social condition conditions benefit us, then the flip side of that is the way that social conditions pose a barrier for people of a particular group um, and those people, then, would would feel discriminated against or oppressed. And why does it feel like that?
Because others will be given more to essentially level the playing field so to speak, and this gets at the concepts of equity and equality. So equity describes a condition in which everyone has more or less the same opportunity and shouldn’t be confused with equality. So in the profession of dietetics, we generally aim to provide the same opportunity to everybody in terms of who becomes a dietetic professional. So anyone with a bachelor’s degree can apply to a and from an accredited dpd program can apply to a dietetic internship. We are an equal opportunity profession except that we’re not because giving everyone.
The same thing only works when everyone also has it’s the same: access to resources, if we’re all starting for the same place, then giving us the same thing works, but we know that that’s not true, so equity is a little bit. Different equity is focused on fairness, so it gives more support or opportunity to people with fewer resources and that ends up level the playing field. So in dietetics to say that everybody has equal opportunity to dietetic. Internships misses the policies and the practices that give some people more opportunity than others. It assumes that we all have the same resources to pay, for a dietetic internship, for instance, or by emphasizing gpa, is a primary admissions criterion.
It’S assumed that everyone has equal access to earn a high gpa, but we know that that’s not true. We know that there’s educational disparity and that people of color and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds often have to work while they’re in school, for instance, to support themselves. They have less time to devote to earning a high gpa and that can also induce stress, um, and so all of this mounts and as as barriers, and so by the time we get to the dietetic internship. It’S not such an equal opportunity anymore and then once people even get through the dietetic internship, we assume that everybody has equal opportunity to pass the rdn exam, except when we really try to dig down and uncover that a little bit more, not everybody has the same Opportunity some people can afford to pay for the gene admin materials to study, and some people cannot. Some people have received extra tutoring and training during high school on how to take standardized tests, for instance, and others haven’t, and usually that falls along racial and socioeconomic lines.
So, in those ways, dietetics and dietetics privileges whiteness in the way that we’ve structured our profession, so an equitable profession, is one that is diverse, that is inclusive and which the barriers are experienced. Similarly by everyone. In order to create equality, we must first be equitable, both in how we serve clients and in the demographic composition of our profession in general. Examining the privilege, the multiple privileges, um and the places in which privilege exists in our profession gives us an opportunity to create a more equitable profession. So if you are somebody with privilege and most of us are, then you have an opportunity now to leverage it to make our profession more equitable.