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Privilege?

Privilege. It's become word which elicits heated discussions and rising emotions - I have seen some embracing it as a reality, holding it with compassion and curiosity, this thing they are wanting to name and work with.  I have also seen some carry it as a reality with shame and hopelessness, feeling guilty about their privilege and powerless to change anything.  And then there are those I have seen respond to the word as an attack on what they have achieved, an attack on the worthiness of their accomplishments and even an attack on their very "goodness" as a human being. 

Personally, privilege lives in me as a reality of life, existing on my levels. In my view, it's not something to be ashamed of or defensive about. Naming privilege is not calling anyone a bad person, or even blaming them. It is simply a way of acknowledging and recognizing the possible advantages and disadvantages which exist on every level of life. For example, if you are 5 feet tall, and I am 6 feet tall, and we both need to see over a 5.5 foot fence to gain information which our survival depends on, I have an advantage over you, a "privilege" in that situation. When and why does this matter? I think, recognizing when these relative advantages exist within relationships, processes, systems, etc.. acknowledging them explicitly is a necessary step to creating a world where all are empowered to show up fully. 

I hold the concept of privilege with compassion. I want to be aware. I want to use my awareness constructively. That said, admittedly, when I consider, in particular, my "white" privilege, I also experience confusion, shame, great sadness, and occasionally some hopelessness. It hurts to think that much of what I have, has been built on someone else's suffering...and continues to be...it's hard for me to know what to do.  How do I balance giving support and giving space...in groups how do I create spaces which shift the power dynamics, support full expression of those traditionally marginalized and maintain the connection of all with each other. I am working on it...

I am aware this doesn't mean treating all people equally.  Treating people equally doesn't necessarily address the advantage that some have inherently over others as in the above example about two people of a different height.

When I am aware of my advantages in respect to others (in this case height), I can contribute and create more possibilities for the other and I have a better understanding of my self.  With no awareness of my advantage, I might complete my task, and then proclaim to myself, you and others, "I am better and worked harder than you!", devaluing you and creating a widening the gap of my advantage over you (in my eyes and the eyes of others). With my awareness, I might stop at the fence and give you a knee to step on.  Together, we would move forward with our task, more fully connected, with an awareness of our interdependency, and committed to supporting each other.

When I am aware of a persons possible disadvantage in any particular situation, I can take special care to create the space they may need to show up fully. This benefits not only them but me - in this way I am given the wonderful gift of knowing and connecting with another human being and strengthening a relationship that my ability to thrive depends on.

This follwing list was compiled by a group of NVC trainers to encourage an awareness of the privilege that any individual may be experiencing in their life.

In that, all though I haven't totally figured out how to manifest this fully in my actions, I am committed to living with awareness and holding care for others around my possible privileges and/or an others possible privilege...

  • as a higher caste or class person in relation to lower caste or class people
  • as a person associated with a dominant ethnicity, in relation to those associated with other ethnicities
  • as a lighter-skinned person in relation to darker-skinned people
  • as a person who resemble those from colonizing countries, in relation to people who resemble those from colonized countries
  • as a male in relation to females
  • as a heterosexual person, in relation to people with other sexualities
  • as a person identifying with their assigned gender and perceived gender identity, in relation to people who do not find themselves in the social definition and meaning of the gender assigned to them
  • as an able-bodied person in relation to people with disabilities
  • as a person with sufficient resources to feed and clothe ourselves in relation to people who are impoverished
  • as an adult in relation to children or the elderly
  • as a person fluent in English in relation to people with little or no English language skills
  • as a someone with higher degrees of education in relation to those with minimal education
  • as a elder in the any community in relation to newcomer.

I have added a couple of my own...

  • as a person who has not by subject to severe or chronic physical or emotional violence to people who have.
  • as a person whose personality whose personality type fits is valued and rewarded in our culture (i.e. extrovert vs introvert).

Although a couple of these "awarenesses" do not apply to me (i.e I am a female), most of them do in many situations. I am committed to holding this awareness constructively, using it to remind me of the care I can take, using the privilege and power I do have, to build a world where all have the resources, opportunity and safety they need to show up fully.