We are all products of our environment. The individual ideologies we carry into our classrooms and places of work and the culture we build there is significantly influenced by the way in which we are raised, the people we surround ourselves with, and the social systems and structures we are exposed to.
Our ways of knowing and understanding the world, the lens through which we live, is then also influenced by these, which follows that the way in which we relate to the people in our office, clinic, lab, classroom, at the gym, at the grocery store and all lived spaces are also affected by these. The social systems and structures of our geographical and cultural context, and most of the world, have been shaped by decades of social development steeped in social hierarchies.
Some of these hierarchies are expressed here in this diagram which shows an inside circle of characteristics that are seen to be more favorable or desired, than those on the outside. In society we treat each other and relate to each other whether consciously or unconsciously on how we fit into the inside or the outside of the circle. The more you are on the inside, the more likely you are to be treated well, get a job, be paid more, be mentored, receive professional development opportunities, be promoted, and so on. The characteristics and identities of the inside circle are also, in unfounded and bias ways, been deemed more desirable on hierarchies of intelligence and work ethic. This is because of oppressive colonial structures of knowledge and social hierarchies that we globally have built and which have heavily been informed by our colonial foundations of knowledge creation and education.
Privilege is what an individual holds when they are a member of some of the characteristics of the inside circle, and different degrees of power are afforded them when they are able to access opportunities in these spaces because of that privilege. It is not the possession of that power and privilege that is a bad thing, it is the way in which that power is used over others that makes it harmful.
So use your powers for good! Anti-racism and anti-oppression work seeks to educate us on these systems that exist, and provide strategies to mitigate for the effects and impact of these realities.