Privilege, what is privilege? Where does privilege come from? How does it formulate and how does one use it? Prof. Michael Kimmel famously said, “privilege is invisible to those who have it”. In his 2009 paper, J.Beal described privilege as unearned advantages you have that others don’t have. Due to our identity and how these identities are treated within society.
Our identity, which is formed by circumstance, education and experience shapes how we view ourselves and others. Privilege influences these attributes – and acts as a leading contributor to how one is perceived by society. An article, written by Ella Alexander, titled “Understanding white privilege: A lesson in how white people benefit from and contribute to structural racism” documents the uncomfortable truth surrounding white privilege, structural racism and how it is ingrained in our history.
For many white folks, terms such as ‘structural racism’ and ‘white privilege’ are new concepts, but this is not the case for black and brown communities. It can be an uncomfortable topic to address, but a pivotal one if change is to happen.
Peggy McIntosh, author of White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack and White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies, challenges her audience to think about their day to day activities and ask the question, “on an everyday basis, what do I have that I didn’t earn?” This simple proposal allows an audience to really dive deep into their own privilege and ask themselves: Can I go for a walk without fear of being followed? Can I go for a drive without the risk of being pulled over by the police? The lack of awareness and fundamental disconnect surrounding privilege and structural racism has caused a racial/cultural divide in society.
“In order to understand the way privilege works, you have to be able to see patterns and systems in social life, but you also have to care about individual experiences.” – Joshua Rothman, The New Yorker
It is important for white folks to identify these patterns and actively become more educated on the systematic oppression black communities in particular have been subject to, as not everyone has been given the same platform, respect or representation as them.
Activities to try in your team
- In your next team meeting or all hands. Ask folks to consider when they first learned that aspects of their identity were different from their friends e.g. starting school and noticing differences in class or race or culture.
- Re-framing constructive feedback through the lens of bias. Ask folks to consider how often they’ve received feedback from managers who shared their lived experiences and privileges? Discuss what impact this has on empathy when our lived experiences diverge.
- In your next candidate evaluation written response. Consider the privileges held by teammates who were involved in the recruitment process and compare and contrast them with the candidate in question. What are the potential blockers to empathy? What bias is more likely to have played a role?
New habits to make a difference
- When you are consuming content like the news or blog posts consider how your privileges compare to the privileges of the author: compare and contrast how your lived experiences shape your views of society.
- Watch videos about privilege and social justice and spark conversations about the different ways we experience the world, and the different ways we are treated in the world e.g. discuss visa processes and immigration processes with team mates and friends.
- Challenge yourself to understand the concept of privilege so well you could explain it to a four year old, then once you can, discuss it in your inner circles with family and friends. Encourage them to understand it better and apply it as a lens in their life when making decisions and sparking conversations.