A Potential Model of Intersectional Privilege
I’ve been thinking of a not-wordy (or less wordy) way to describe privilege for a while. This is my first draft as an equation that defines the assumptions I have and the relationships that exist between individual identity characteristics and the opportunities (or lack of opportunities that are available to you.
First, bear with me that Medium doesn’t do the best with mathematical notation. I believe that the concept of privilege can be described by the model:
y = βx + ε
I’m calling that Equation 1 (E1), Where:
- y is a set of personal and professional opportunities available to you
- x is the amount of “hard work” you put in
- β is the coefficient that describes the multiplier you have on your hard work (privilege)
- ε is the random variation (chance/luck) you experience that leads to your opportunity set
But how do we define β?
β can be described by a regression model with a theoretically infinite number of terms:
β = (Σαz) + ε
I’m calling that Equation 2 (E2). The variables are as follows:
- α is the weight of the impact of a particular identity characteristic on your outcomes (e.g., the weighted effect of your racial identity on your opportunity set)
- z is the impact of your identity on your opportunity set, represented as a relative value to the “highest” or “most” valuable identity in a given category (e.g., White = 1, Black = <1)
In this case, I think it can be simplified, because it’s a reasonable assumption that the ε in this equation can be subsumed into the ε in E1. That means we’re working with:
β = (Σαz)
That makes our total equation (E3):
y = (Σαz)x + ε
It’s possible that the combination of your gender, race, and socioeconomic status can explain the *majority* of your opportunity set in life.
In math-y terms, I think that you can get a pretty high value of R² for E3 using just gender, race, and SES. Thus, the equation that I propose looks like this:
y = βg + βr + βses +ε
From my preliminary thought experiments, I think that this equation can actually help ground discussions of privilege in formal logic, which can help avoid derailments, and ensure that discussion follows a purely logical path.
In the future, I’m thinking of using this to explain the most common questions I get for a more math- or engineering-focused audience.
Remember, this is still an intellectual exercise. Please do offer refinement or refutation, but be kind!