The loss of privilege by Thomas Owen


 TEDx Talks, Sep 14, 2020

“Why for so many of us is it so difficult to acknowledge we have privilege, let alone embrace the idea of losing it”

Author, filmmaker, professor and public speaker Thomas Owen is known for challenging the social norms of inequality and advocating for peace and social justice. Owen’s approach is to document his findings and encourage communication through people sharing their stories of privilege loss, and how they adjusted. He examines how age, gender, race and citizenship (to name but a few) is linked to privilege, and what happens when there is a shift or change.


“Privilege is unevenly distributed in societies, and its particular rules of advantage and exclusion are constantly being contested and changed. We get angry, we deny it, we deflect it, we blame others, we mourn it, and eventually at some point, we accept our privilege loss and adjust to it.”


According to Owen’s TEDxAuckland talk entitled The Loss of Privilege, losing privilege could be the best thing for society, our relationships and the planet. Unfortunately, those who have privilege, tend to not know they have it. Peggy McIntosh, author of White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, documents that this type of ignorance/naivety is taught from an early age “ As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.” If you acknowledge it, you are there for accountable. Being oblivious is a privilege within itself. 

Owen’s objective is to create tools to help embrace losing privilege by rejecting the binary of; people who have privilege and people who don’t. He argues that because we are all made up of multiple identity categories, one category (such as age or gender) will hold more privilege compared to another (such as race or sexual orientation). He goes on to discuss the notion that western society is fuelled by two unrealistic ideologies – meritocracy and individualism. The idea that we are all unique and can’t be categorized, and have all been offered equal opportunities – meaning our achievements have been procured by our own efforts and skill. “These are beautiful ideas in themselves, but when seen through a privilege lens are complete fantasies”.  Once absorbed, this notion can cause deflection which comes into its own through justification, denial and delegitimising the non-privileged – allowing all accounts of accountability to be evaded. 

Owen’s believes that like Brene Brown, vulnerability and human connection are key drivers in social justice. Privilege blocks human connection as it creates a barrier that surrounds vulnerability and discourages awareness. By accepting one’s privilege and privilege loss, one has more chance to grow and become aware of other experiences around them. “Lets loose the privilege and gain the connection.”

Resources to share in your teams & discuss further:


Articles 📚
Why It’s Important to Think About Privilege — and Why It’s Hard | Global Citizen
What Is White Privilege, Really? | Teaching Tolerance
I Wanted to Know What White Men Thought About Their Privilege. So I Asked | The New York Times

Videos 📹
The loss of privilege | Thomas Owen | TEDxAuckland
The Power Of Privilege: Tiffany Jana | TEDxRVAWomen
Dr. Tiffany Jana | Embracing Diversity in Ourselves, Our Communities, and our World: Part 1,2 & 3 | Sounds True

Podcasts 🎧
Let’s talk About Privilege | The F*ck It Diet with Caroline Dooner
Can’t Categorize Me | Drew Grimes

Activities to try with your team

  • In your next team meeting or all hands. Get to know your team a little more. Create a safe space where employees can discuss times they have felt they have been judged for either having too much privilege or not enough. How did it make them feel? Did it change their own mindset when meeting others for the first time?

  • Re-framing constructive feedback through the lens of bias.  Allow yourself to feel uncomfortable. It’s the best learning aid in life – when we are uncomfortable, it means we are learning and challenging that fixed mindset.

  • Think about your last 1:1. Did you feel that either one of you relied on your bias to make a point or lead in some way? Was the assumption correct? Did it hinder or help your judgement? Try to unlearn what you know of privilege. Privilege can come in all shapes and sizes and different attributes. If you focus too much on the privilege you don’t have, you will not see the privilege you do have that’s right in front of you.

Got a Question?


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