Activism 101: Privilege

Hi! Let’s talk about an icky topic no one likes to talk about when being an activist: 

P R I V I L E G E

The conversation about privilege is easier to have when you feel like you are the one who doesn’t hold it. No one wants to be accused of getting good things you didn’t have to work for. That goes against the BS mythology that is woven in the fiber of this country: If you work hard, then you reap the rewards.

Privilege isn’t a bad word; it’s not a death sentence. No one is saying you are a terrible person— unless you use your privilege to do terrible things.

No one has a perfect life and when you accuse me of having an easy life, it makes my experience feel invalid. It’s even harder to come to terms with the privilege you hold when you are a part of an identity or identities that are marginalized in our society.

I will give you a short example from my life. 

A coworker, who also is a Black woman, pointed out to me different instances that I was treated better than she was being treated on our team. My first reaction and instinct was to point out all the ways I struggle or compare to the place I worked before which was worse. I am a Black woman too! We are all being treated unfairly!

But that wasn’t helpful to her experience. Yes, we are both Black women, but we are also interpreted differently in society. There are things about our appearances that code me as friendlyapproachable, and non-threatening, and she is often coded as mean, intimidating, and easily angered. I am often protected, and I, for the most part, get what I want. This is privilege.

And with that privilege, I have a lot of guilt. I find myself WANTING to be treated unfairly so I can justify needing improvement in the workplace, but also prove that I don’t feel like I am better than her, that I am an ally.

This is the thinking trap of privilege.

Some things to think about when it comes to privilege

Being defensive in a way to position yourself as a victim does nothing to validate the person not experiencing privilege. 

When someone comes to you pointing out your privilege, or if you are in a discussion where your experience is being described as privilege, projecting your guilt is never helpful. That puts the other person or people in a position to comfort you, and that is unnecessary energy that you are making them exert. And that is emotional manipulation.

See people’s experience for what they are. You work hard, there is no disputing that. But you can still feel the burn of climbing the stairs if you are exerting effort on an escalator.

We need to change the narrative about privilege. It is not inherently a bad thing. We should celebrate our platforms and opportunities to lift others up. 

“You’re supposed to throw the rope down; not jump in with us, I think. I want them to take me to the safe and shiny world they were in until a few days ago, not for them to be beaten and abused in mine.” 

― Ben Philippe, Sure, I’ll Be Your Black Friend: Notes from the Other Side of the Fist Bump

Why are we quick to position ourselves to jump into the world of being beaten and abused when we could throw the life line to lift others into our safe and shiny world?

Let’s start lifting!

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