How to Argue Effectively with a Person in a Position of Privilege

Three Methods:PreparationDuring the ArgumentAfter the Argument

Argue with a person in a position of privilege can be very stressful, especially when arguing about society or the privilege(s) they hold.

Method 1

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    Research the topic. This is relatively simply, as the internet has much more news than local and national TV new broadcasts. Try to find as many sources of news as possible and learn what is happening in the world. If the topic contains another subject (such as law) research scholarly articles using Google Scholar or other sites for academic journals and books.
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    Know your facts. Know your arguments, and the likely counterarguments. The internet is riddled with opinions and heated arguments between those with and without privilege, so it isn't hard to find out what the arguments for and against are. You can also ask family and friends about their opinions on the topic so you have a wide range of viewpoints to consider.
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    Consider the situation. If the person holds a position of power over you, or could pose a safety threat, it may be dangerous to point out their privilege. If you could lose your job, get kicked out of your house, be physically attacked, or otherwise be harmed by disagreeing with this person, don't proceed. Your physical and emotional safety comes first.

Method 2
During the Argument

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    Uphold their character while being critical of bad behavior. People can easily take criticism of their behavior as criticism of their character, so make it clear that you respect them as a human being. If they have been oppressive, phrase the issue as a deviation from their usually good behavior, rather than an attack on them. (Even if they can be pretty rotten, pointing out patterns of awfulness will only make them not want to listen.)
    • "You're such a fair-minded person. I'm surprised to hear these remarks about Muslims coming from you."
    • "I'm surprised a considerate and thoughtful person like you would support a eugenics organization like Autism Speaks."
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    Encourage them to question their privileged reasoning. Critical thinking and consideration of other perspectives are a key part of social justice discourse, so encourage them to use these skills. They may come to new realizations and change their position. Even if they don't, the questions you asked will likely stick in their minds and they may gradually change their minds.
    • "That's interesting. Why would you say that?"
    • "Why would a black child with a toy gun deserve death in an open-carry state?"
    • "Do you feel it's ethical to force a person to carry a pregnancy to term against their will? Why?"
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    Keep your cool. If you raise your voice, they'll likely respond with defensiveness or aggressiveness, and productive dialogue will be lost. If you start getting frustrated, angry, or overwhelmed, find ways to calm yourself.
    • Close your eyes and take a long, deep breath.
    • Ask the other person to slow down. "I want to understand what you're saying, and it's difficult when you speak so quickly. Would you please slow down and restate what you said?"
    • Take pauses to think. Don't let yourself become overwhelmed; take them time and let them wait for you to give a thoughtful response.
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    Keep in mind that recognizing privilege takes time. It can be an upsetting realization to discover that a person benefits from white privilege, thin privilege, or neurotypical privilege (for example). You don't need to fit all of Feminism 101 into a 15-minute discussion.
    • Don't blame them for ignorance. It's easy not to recognize privilege when your lack of privilege isn't constantly being shoved into your face.
    • Acknowledge that they didn't create the problem, that it really stinks, and they can help but they can't fix it entirely.
    • Encourage them to listen to other marginalized people and do their own research.
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    Rely on facts, not feelings. Use statistics and studies to back up the points you make, and make it clear that your viewpoint is carefully based upon the reality of the world. Here are examples of clear facts.
    • American police killed nearly 1,000 people in 2015.[1] Canada has about 25 fatal police shootings per year, Germany had 15 in 2 years (including armed victims), and Iceland has had 1 in 71 years of existence.[2]
    • Shaming fat people actually hurts their health: its victims' mental health deteriorates, and they become even fatter.[3] Conversely, fat acceptance blogs can improve readers' health.[4]
    • People with mental illnesses are no more likely to be violent than the general population.[5][6] They are much more likely to be victims of violence.[7]
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    Recognize when it's time to quit. Say "I need some air" or "I don't want to talk about this anymore" if...
    • They try to gaslight you (Try to make you believe your past didn't happen how you remember it).
    • They try to tell you or make you feel like your experiences aren't valid.
    • They become aggressive or threatening.
    • They prove that they're choosing to be ignorant ("Nothing can change my mind...")
    • You don't feel that you can comfortably continue the discussion.

Method 3
After the Argument

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    Take some time to recover. Arguing with a person in a position of privilege, especially if they are in a position of power over you, can be a frightening experience. Don't push yourself to do anything challenging right away.
    • Do breathing exercises or grounding exercises.
    • Play the 5-finger grounding game: identify 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell (or that you like to smell), and 1 good thing about yourself. (Make replacements as needed if you are deaf, blind, etc.)
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    Let out your emotions. Cry, scream into a pillow, punch the sofa, and do whatever you need to do in order to release your feelings. It's normal and okay to be upset after a difficult conversation, especially if it didn't go well.
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    Reconnect with the marginalized community you were standing up for. If you were standing up for fat people, read from the fat acceptance movement online. If you were supporting the rights of disabled people, reach out to your friends from the disability community online.


  • Understand that people benefit from privilege if they are in a group that benefits from systematic oppression, whether or not they personally have a problem with the oppressed group(s). If you are arguing about oppression of a group you're not part of to someone else with the same privilege, remember that you too benefit from systematic oppression.


  • Many privileges groups are prone to being offended when arguing about their own privilege.
  • Other members of privileged groups are prone to excusing their ignorance or offensive behavior because they "believe in equality" (i.e., treating people in accordance to the status quo). Those who truly believe in equality will respect your right to be upset.

Article Info

Categories: Conversation Skills | Social Activism