Laying Down My Privilege
This is my family. I grew up on the other side of the drawbridge. My mother came from Muskegon Heights and my father from Muskegon. Both of my parents families moved. Yes, I am a child of white flight. And I am a child of privilege.
In the United States, privilege is granted to people who have membership in one or more of these social identity groups:
• White people;
• Able-bodied people;
• Middle class people;
• Middle-aged people;
• English-speaking people
Privilege is usually invisible to the people who have it. People in dominant groups often believe that they have earned the privileges that they enjoy or that everyone can have these privileges if they work hard enough. But privilege is unearned and it is granted to people in dominant groups whether they want that privilege or not.
Talking about racism is not about placing blame or feeling shame. Shame never changes anybody or anything.
It is about talking to others and trying to understand THEIR experience. It is about identifying the beliefs we carry unconsciously within us and unpacking them so that we can decide consciously whether we want to continue carrying them or not. And so we can identify the way in which systems operate to perpetuate privilege in ways that can be far more dangerous than an individual prejudice. Because racism is not just a bad attitude. Racism is an evil that dehumanizes people and causes immeasurable suffering.
In fact, racism strips us all of our humanity. It tells me that I am a white person with rights and privileges I never asked for. And in that identity, it seeks to separate me from my place in the family of common humanity. A family where when any one is excluded, the entire family suffers for it.
Those of us with privilege, need to acknowledge our privilege. We have to stand up to institutional barriers. We have to examine our own thoughts, words and actions. And we have to create safe places for honest conversations so that we can address people’s fears and misunderstandings in ways that educate without shaming. And we have to be willing to really listen and to learn from other people, to understand that good intentions aren’t enough so that we can lay aside our assumptions of both privilege and oppression to ask each other what living in this society is really like for each other.