Reflections on Privilege
There has been so much going on in the world over the past couple of months and I have had to let my blogging take a back seat for a while. I have been working on this post for the past month because I feel compelled to write about privilege. It is a difficult topic to address (hence the lengthy writing process) because it is an uncomfortable and complex subject; however, it is also a necessary topic to discuss at length if our systems and human interactions are going to change.
I am writing from my perspective as a white, middle class, able-bodied, CIS gendered woman in a heteronormative relationship. Almost every one of those labels comes with privilege. I must admit, I feel discomfort in my body when stating that I experience privilege. I experience this in the following ways:
- Tension in my neck and shoulders,
- A well-developed ability to productively procrastinate (another reason it has taken so long to get this done)
- My brain screaming at me that I am not better than others and if I admit to having privilege then others will think that I am being boastful or prideful. This is not the case…
The Collins Dictionary definition of privilege is, “a special right or advantage that only one person or group has,” (https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/privilege). Having privilege says nothing about a person’s morals, values, or beliefs. Having privilege means that there are aspects in that person’s life beyond their control that have allowed certain advantages, and limited exposure to, certain stressors. I was listening to Trevor Noah and the Daily Social Distancing Show podcast and he was speaking with Laverne Cox (the episode aired June 22, 2020). They spoke about the difference between discomfort and safety. I want to point this out because the experience described above is one of discomfort, but at no point in that experience or while writing this post have I been in any way unsafe. Often we do whatever we can to avoid discomfort, and this is one of the factors that perpetuates discrimination in our systems.
When you have privilege, it can be incredibly hard to see the ways it shows up in your own life because, like most things, it is easier to look at others than ourselves. In this post I thought it would be helpful to share examples of privilege in my life. Some of these I have identified on my own and some with the help of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPoC) in my life.
Some of my experiences of Race (White) Privilege:
- When I gave birth to my son, I was not drug-tested upon admittance to the hospital. I also never, not once, worried if a social worker was going to come speak with me and what consequences could occur. I have heard many stories over the years of Indigenous mothers who are drug-tested, not once but multiple times, as well as social workers speaking to and visiting them even though they have no current involvement with child protection.
- I have not been followed around a store or questioned as to what I am doing if I am browsing slowly.
- People applaud me for my self-care and taking time for me if I go out for drinks and dancing with friends. Similarly, on the rare occasion I bring my son into a liquor store with me, no one bats an eye or stares disapprovingly. They do not shame me and assume I have addiction issues.
- When my son was a year old, I accidentally locked him in a hot car along with the keys. I did not hesitate to call the police, and no one called child protection. After speaking with a few Indigenous friends, I was told stories of the same thing happening on reserve and resulting in a child protection investigation. None of my white friends who have done the same thing have ever had child protection called on them for it.
- The ability to choose when and how much to engage in racial issues. I can turn off my social media or the news, I can leave the protest, I can simply turn away and then I no longer experience the discomfort. I do not have to live immersed in it every day.
- When my spouse and I kiss in public or otherwise show affection no one looks twice, makes rude comments, or asks us to leave.
- We were actively and enthusiastically encouraged to get married in the first place.
- No one has ever been surprised to find out I am married to a man or refused to associate with me because of it.
- The only time I have ever been mis-gendered in my life was after I shaved my head for a cancer fundraiser in 2008 and our group of friends teased me about looking like a 12-year-old boy. I knew that it was in jest and it still bothered me. It would be so much worse to be mis-gendered constantly, even maliciously.
- I have never been called “it”.
- There is always a box to check on forms that aligns with my gender-identity.
- No one has ever asked me if I’m sure I am a woman or said I need to try harder to be a woman/man.
- I do not have to think about where I meet people and plan around things like wheelchair ramps, medical equipment, or assistive devices.
- I take for granted that I can run around and play with my son.
- No one questions my intelligence based on using an assistive device such as a hearing aid or walker.
Middle – Class
- We live in a “nice, safe” neighbourhood with “good” schools.
- I have the luxury to plan the size of our family based on the size of our home/number of rooms.
- I am comfortable with the idea of letting my child walk to a friend’s house or to school alone (when he is a bit older).
I am sure I could keep going for several pages because as I reflect on this, I keep thinking of more and more examples and am acutely aware I have only scratched the surface of my own privilege. None of the examples shared above refutes any of the challenges I HAVE faced in my life, not one of the examples indicates anything immoral, mean-spirited, or boastful about me as a person. What these examples DO demonstrate is just how much we take our own experiences for granted. When I think of the things I have struggled with and then think about struggling with discrimination as well, I cannot help but understand why so many people fight so hard to be heard and are then furious about being unheard, discredited, and rejected.
Privilege is NOT a dirty word. It is something to be recognized and used to amplify the voices of those who do not have that same privilege – this is what it means to be an ally. It also means that others with the same level of privilege as you are more likely to listen to and value when you speak out against issues such as racism, income gaps, LGBTQ2SPA+ issues, and so on.
I encourage you to educate yourself on the experiences of those you share this world with. Some ways to do this are: visit a local cultural museum, attend local cultural events, and educate yourself on local/provincial/national political candidates’ stance on anti-racism, so that you can use your vote to change the systemic biases experienced by non-Caucasian, non-able-bodied, non-heteronormative, CIS-Gendered, non-middle-class people.
I want to send a HUGE shout-out to a beloved friend and former boss Sarah who has a similar voice of privilege to me. She helped me with the conversation and all the resources you see below. Each one is worth checking out.
This is a fabulous article with advice, about tolerance and white activism and race relations: https://www.tolerance.org/professional-development/white-antiracism-living-the-legacy it also discusses why the 80’s concept of saying things like, “I don’t see race” are not acceptable to use today; why we need to strive to being a “tossed salad,” instead of a “melting pot.”
Put your money where your heart is and shop from companies that are (documented) as supporting the anti-racist movement not just now while it’s popular, but all the time. This is a recent news discussion about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0raMxabGIiw
W. Kamau Bell interview on Jimmy Fallon about growing up with racism, a good reflection of the differences from the privilege experience: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9t4JIewHlRQ
Amber Ruffin on Seth Meyers sharing experiences with the police over her lifetime: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8o6OEyfuJU8 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5YSF3t-KK0 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHLFuyAiFCE are multiple examples of different treatment. She is an affluent, educated black woman.
Phoebe Robinson and advice for people to educate themselves about racism and great book recommendation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bd-F-Va_Vj0, her book recommendation: “so You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo (available on amazon and in book stores)
Some of the top books in the world right now (courtesy of USA Today and Amazon.ca):
- “White Fragility,” by Robin DiAngelo at No. 1
- “How to Be an Antiracist,” by Ibram X. Kendi at No. 3
- “So You Want to Talk About Race,” by Ijeoma Oluo at No. 4
- “Me and White Supremacy,” by Layla F. Saad at No. 5
- “Between the World and Me,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates at No. 8
On Indigenous Rights and Canadian race relations:
In This Together by Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail (a collection of essays by Indigenous and non-Indigenous people across Canada)
21 Things you May Not Know About the Indian Act, by Bob Joseph
Speaking our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation by Monique Gray Smith
What exactly does it look like to be Culturally Agile at work and in life, this is one group of examples: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/careers-myhr/job-seekers/about-competencies/indigenous-relations/cultural-agility
The more consumers in this consumer driven globalized world make choices to reflect their political and moral views the more choices we will all have. With that in mind Forbes just published a starter list of orgs to support, blogs to read, companies to support etc. to assist the anti-racism and Black Lives Matter movements: https://fortune.com/2020/06/05/antiracist-books-donations-black-owned-businesses-resources/
Here are other some helpful links:
This is a list of Canadian organizations you can support towards racial equality: https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/anti-racism-organizations-canada/
The Canadian Anti-Racism Network: https://stopracism.ca/content/diversity-training you can educate, get involved, learn from research, or report hate groups
BC Government website focused on Truth and Reconciliation, the 94 Calls to Action and why they are important: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/indigenous-people/new-relationship/truth-and-reconciliation-commission-calls-to-action
The Indigenous Perspectives Society: https://ipsociety.ca/about/ a charitable org that offers many opportunities to learn online and in person (after COVID)
The Center for Cultural Agility: https://thecenterforculturalagility.com/ with blog posts, explanations and US based education opportunities.