Understanding my Privilege Matters ///


Privilege: A right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor (Merriam-Webster).

The challenge presented to me:

Erika is a woman who works on citizen re-entry into the general population.  She and I recently had a conversation about the limitations of the re-entry ecosystem.  In this conversation I expressed my uncertainty of how I could help.  After all, my company certainly wouldn’t hire a convicted felon.  She responded by saying, and I paraphrase, “you have the privilege to affect change and you should use your privilege.”

What she was telling me is that I am already employed at my company.  I have a voice and a network.  I have the privilege to express that voice with my network.  It isn’t easy, and it isn’t necessarily going to affect anything.  But, I have the privilege.  If I want to help, then use it.

Ok, so what?

It’s an interesting concept…privilege.  How many times have any of us really thought about our privileges.  We spend a lot of time thinking about our plights.  We think about what is hard and the struggles we have.  But, most of the time, we don’t sit back and think…”boy, I’m glad to have this privilege today”.  After all, privilege diminishes our achievement.  The idea of it makes us feel as if our hard work is undermined.  Unless, of course, privilege is a direct result of those achievements and that hard work.

So, what Privilege?

It’s funny…when Erika first mentioned privilege, my implicit bias immediately thought she was referring to my White privilege.  After all, that’s an anchor to the word privilege.  At first I clammed up.  I didn’t like where she was going with this…

But, her point didn’t have to do with me being white.  She was representing my professional privilege working for the company I do.  But, it certainly forced me to think about it, especially given the nature of our podcast and our conversations.

Thus, I started to consider what my privileges are.  Specifically, what is my white privilege and more specifically my male white privilege.

Why think about it?

We have the #metoo movement ballooning.  More and more situations of racial profiling are captured on video.  The feelings others have in response to these situations are strong.  After all, I did read Rodney’s blog post about Starbucks (Starbucks, Amygdala and Dog Poop).

And, Harvard/Stanford developed a 30 year study (The Equality of Opportunity Project).  The study helps provide evidence to the idea…economic equality will end racial inequality.

As it turns out, this is not the case.  Success does not necessarily breed success…It is far more likely for a black boy to become poor after being raised in a wealthy family than it is for a white boy.  All things equal: Neighborhood, schools, economics, etc.

You should read the study.  But, to make it easier…there is a great, 27 minute, podcast about it from ‘The Daily’: Racism’s Punishing Reach

Why think about it? Because I feel it is my responsibility to think about it.  If I don’t, then how can I really affect change?

How it is for me…

My privilege hinges, anchors, survives because I am white man.  I can work hard, seek opportunities, and if I don’t win, I’ll likely have another round.  I make good decisions.  I live a clean life.  Sure, I make mistakes, but I’m human right?  We all make mistakes.  I’ll bounce back and recover.

I don’t…have to walk down the street hearing doors lock…clutching my keys in fear of being attacked…have mace in my purse…walk on an elevator to people clutching their bags and holding their breath…get followed around a store…worry about what men will think if I take time off for my new child…concern myself with sitting in a Starbucks for 2 minutes waiting for friends without ordering…what may happen when I get pulled over.  The list of examples is endless on the things I don’t have to worry about that others do.

This list doesn’t mean I am immune to experiencing these things.  But, I am much less likely to experience them.  I’m much less likely to hear of stories like these happening to other white men.

When I watch the news or T.V. I don’t usually see a white man being the victim of a hate crime.  Or see a white man as the administrative assistant in a movie.  I’m well represented in government, executive leadership, and as the endless cast of super heroes and positive figures.  So, if a serial killer is white, I know I don’t need to be that…I can be anything I want to be.

My Privilege…

Living in a society where I don’t have to fear repercussion unless I do something wrong affords me privilege.  Walking down the street around more people that look like me affords me privilege.  Seeing white people escape conviction or have a much reduced sentence to comparable crimes by black people affords me privilege.

And,  I don’t feel guilty about it.  Why?  I didn’t give myself this privilege.  I get to work hard, make good decisions, and see the positive outcomes of living a good life.  I am lucky to have it, and anyone with it would rather have it than not.

But, to me, this isn’t my true privilege.  These things are afforded to me out of luck and crappy social circumstances for others. My real privilege is that I don’t have to acknowledge the other situations.

I get to go home, watch T.V. and ignore it. In conversation I can chalk it up to bad luck…lack of effort…paranoia…or misguided ideals.  After all, if your plight is real, then is my achievement is not a result of my effort and hard work?  And if your plight is real, then the great and just world of equality that I live in wouldn’t be real. Right?

The thing, is I know I work hard.  I’ve made good decisions and try to take advantage of the opportunities I’m presented.  I try not to make big mistakes. I want to represent myself and my family respectfully.  But, that’s not the point.  Being a white male allows this to be a truth of mine.  I get to control my destiny, so to speak.

And that is the point…as Erika said…”you have the privilege to affect change and you should use your privilege.”

Why this matters…

Acknowledging privilege matters.  It matters to progress.  It’s important to being a part of the ecosystem that promotes equality.  Not a part of the ecosystem that ignores inequality.

It is important for all white people to realize they have privilege.  Without the realization equality will not happen.  Culturally, white people have built our free nation on the backs of slaves.  White men have suppressed female equality for the vast majority of our nation’s history.

It may not be the fault of modern day white men, but we truly benefit from that history.  Our parents teach us ideals based on this history.  We live each day because of ancestors experiences through this history.

This same history creates experiences for non-white men…experiences and history that don’t share as rosy a picture as we get to live.  History that shows a very different outcome to what effort can result in.  A different picture of what independent thoughts and ideas get you.

Not guilt, just acknowledgement…

I say all of this, not to say “feel guilty.”  Not to say we must repent for our cultural past.  No, I say this because we must not ignore it.  We must recognize it.  To ensure our children live in a better world, we must promote these ideals for all people.  Promote it so it isn’t privilege anymore…it just is.

If we ignore it in conversation or treat people with different experiences as liars, paranoid, angry, etc…then we don’t ever bridge our gaps.  We only perpetuate a false narrative of equality and justice for all.

The gestures don’t have to be large.  We all don’t need to march or speak in large forums.  But do the little things.  Listen…understand…and help build moments of empathy and trust.  After all, without either what will we have in the end?

KeithMore In Common