In this blog, Kami, our insights consultant shares her experiences of privilege and goes beyond the over-used conversation about white privilege.
There is no doubt in my mind that one of the most difficult topics to discuss and understand in the EDIB space is privilege. These last 13 months have really brought this home to me, in particular the subject of white privilege.
I sometimes feel that the world is deluded, we think that by addressing white privilege we address all of EDIB related issues and challenges. I am sorry to disappoint the reader, but it does not. White privilege is a singular concept related to race and racial equality. Feel free to disagree with me - I am sharing some personal views here. I know that not everyone will agree with me, and that is the readers' privilege - to filter out the information that does not fit the view we hold about the world we live in.
What is this thing called privilege? I have thought long and hard about it. My understanding of privilege continues to grow, it does not stay still.
What have I learned?
What have I changed my mind about?
What has caused me to pause, reflect and adapt my lens of the world I live in?
In sharing what I have learned, I hope you will also reflect on your own beliefs:
In recognising someone else's privilege, I need to see my own
I have spent a lot of my life unaware of my own privilege until forced to confront it, particularly when it was absent.
Let me explain.
I attended a conference a few years back and needed to use a wheelchair. I am not a permanent wheelchair user, but have had to rely on one more than once in my life. In this instance, I had broken my ankle and needed the support to get from one location to another. The conference was crowded and as I tried to navigate through the crowds I was worried about bumping into people's ankles, backs of legs.
What amazed me was that the crowd did not see me, was not aware of me a wheelchair user. I was the one saying sorry, excuse me, slowing down for the 'able bodied'. The experience helped me become more aware of my own physical abilities compared to those who are differently-abled to me particularly even more so because I was a temporary wheelchair user.
To see my own privilege, I acknowledge when others are not afforded the same experiences
I have begun to understand how my privilege impacts others and is perceived by others.
I am fortunate by birth, I am a second-generation woman of Indian heritage, born and brought up in England, literate in two languages. I received a British education, I have two degrees and a post graduate professional chartered qualification and lots of training and self-development.
I have frequently been asked by cousins who did not have the same experiences as me, how I can help them improve their lot in life - the only difference being the birth rights we are afforded based on where we are born in the world.
Privilege is nuanced and fickle
Privilege depends on what is valued in society, at work, in the world at large. The human race is considered to be at the top of the food chain, we are a privileged race of beings when compared to other beings with whom we share our beautiful earth. We are meant to be civilised, rational beings, but throughout our history and even today we have shown times where we are not civilised with each other, when our rationalisation is harmful, not helpful.
While I am privileged in many ways, I am also reminded that my value to others will depend on circumstances and situations that demand or desire things that I cannot control, for example, my skin colour, height, eye colour, my age or intellect.
I recall a former boyfriend, who once asked me to dye my hair blond (!). I did not, and needless to say the relationship did not last long. Perhaps it was an innocent ask, but for me, by asking me to dye my hair blond he showed his desire and preferences, which was not for me as I was.
I have also experienced that being female, brown, representing the not for profit sector is not valued when compared to someone who is white, male, representing tax or financial services. Or perhaps one needs to learn to play the game of internal politics - 'who you know counts'. Maybe it is a combination of these things - our intersectional experience really does matter.
I was born with certain privileges, that does not make me a bad person
I have the privilege of being a woman, of having a loving husband and amazing children I can call my own. I have a house and a small garden, a small dog who goes crazy when she sees me. I have my heritage that makes me grateful, I had time with my father before he died, I have my family and friends who always have my back.
I have had the privilege of the opportunities presented to me - to have a job that helped me see the world, to meet less privileged people who did not have the opportunities into which I was born. I am privileged because of the knowledge I possess and my ability and confidence to take action.
There are times I forget what I have. Every day I try to practice being grateful for what I have been gifted and what I have gained, and to practice compassion toward others who see the world differently to me.
Privilege is complicated because our human experience is complicated. What is the secret to privilege? The more self-aware I am about myself and my reactions to those around me and the situations I find myself in, understanding what is valued and not valued, the better able I am to react to situations and be of help to those whose privilege shows up in different ways to mine.
Be brave in understanding your privilege, don't turn away from it.