November 6, 2020

Go All In: Sharing Your Privilege

Most people cringe at the word ‘privilege’.  Nobody wants to be thought of as having it, but we all do. It’s like your appendix. You don’t understand why you have it and getting rid of it requires more trouble than it’s worth. Just leave it be, right?  No.

The Oxford American Dictionary defines Privilege as a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person, or group of people.

Privileged = Fortunate

Underprivileged = Unfortunate

Every person on the planet is privileged in one way or another, although skin color is what usually comes to mind. In most cases, we are born into privilege with these special rights bestowed upon us that we often perceive as “the norm”.  Think you don’t have privilege?  Think again:

Do you have 2 legs that allow you to walk, jump, and run? You are privileged over those who can’t.

Do you have money in the bank? You are privileged over those who don’t.

Don’t have to worry about finding a capable hair stylist or barber when you move to a small city?  You are privileged over those who do.

Did you learn to read? You are privileged over those who are forbidden to learn.

As an African American female engineer and businesswoman, I’ve personally felt that I’ve had little privilege.   I’ve often been the only one – or one of few – that that looks like me in the workplace.  I’ve also battled against gender-biased stereotypes. I didn’t even have the privilege of easily finding a black doll to buy my little girls for Christmas (thank goodness online shopping took off!).  As a Diversity & Inclusion champion, I specialize in helping people understand the privileges they may have, and how to understand the plight of others who may not have those same privileges.

And the truth is… I have moments when I must check MYSELF. For I, too, am privileged.

Having privilege, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, but being aware of it matters.  I uncover my own blind spots time and time again, even this week.  A wheelchair-bound woman opened my eyes to the fact that I don’t have to worry about where to park, or how I’ll get around.  And when it’s time to leave, I do so with ease.  Upon exiting a building together, she discovered that someone illegally parked next to her, blocking the wheelchair ramp exit and access to her car.  The owner was nowhere to be found.  Instead of simply moseying along on my merry way I stayed, as did several of our peers.  We shared our abilities (in this case, our legs) with her, walking around to contact the car owner and find options to resolve the matter. We shared our influence, building a network of allies that made phone calls and brought attention to the matter.  We shared our time with her, learning more about each other to help minimize any anxiety.  After waiting 45 minutes, when the owner finally arrived (with a bit of an attitude), I shared my voice, asking her to take note of our new friend and to render an apology.

That incident ignited the thought for this blog:

Privilege is Power, so use your power for good.

Even though I could not change the living circumstances of my newfound friend in the wheelchair, I could use my available powers to help correct an injustice that she was enduring.  In this case, my privilege was of some benefit to someone other than myself.

So why do people dismiss the thought that privilege exists?   It’s the continuous yin and yang conflict of the Haves and Have Nots… in other words… Good vs. Evil. It’s human nature to believe we are good and to push away any notion that we are anything less.  Privilege, like any other power, is not inherently good or bad.  It’s what you do with it that matters.

And so I urge you all to check your blind spots.  How are you privileged? To go All In, you must reframe your view to more of an “It is what it is” mindset and determine how you can share your privilege to help others who can benefit. Be an All In Ally.

Share Your Abilities. Share Your Influence. Share Your Time. Share Your Voice.

Diversity & Inclusion