Words by Nathalie Maxey
Illustration by Jamison Harper
HOW TO FACE YOUR OWN PRIVILEGE
Privilege and equality are hot topics these days; I’ll bet when you see “privilege,” you’re already thinking about white versus (other skin colors) or men versus women.
The truth, though? Privilege runs deeper than race and gender. A privilege is any advantage we’re born with or acquired without earning or choosing it—for example, our family’s socioeconomic status, our native country and language, our body type, or even being an able-bodied person. The advantages of being who we are automatically make us a better fit for certain products and systems, such as schools, workplaces, transportation, technology, and clothing.
Some privileges are not obvious and can easily be taken for granted. You may not feel privileged based on skin color or gender, but can you walk up the stairs, find clothes that fit your body type, feel safe walking by yourself, or have access to education and clean water? These are privileges that some don’t have simply based on how or where they were born. Being a Latin American woman, I know what it’s like to be on the other side of privilege. However, now that I realize other ways I’m privileged, I see my privilege everywhere—in the media, in schools, and even at churches sometimes. So, how do we face our own privilege in a healthy manner for a more inclusive world?
THINGS TO DO:
Acknowledge Your Privilege.
Look for areas in your life where you may be taking privilege for grant-ed. Fill in the blank: “My ________ is a privilege,” and just be aware that not everyone else may have it.
Find out what it looks like to live without your privilege(s) and what you can do to help through books, social media, and conversations with others.
While you don’t necessarily have to be an activist, you can raise awareness in your circles of influence by sharing your story and by talking with friends and family.
Make a Change.
Do what you can. Start or volunteer at an organization, design inclusive products, mentor and make space for others who are different from you, or make even larger changes in our society’s institutions/systems. Any shift toward a more inclusive world is helpful regardless of its size.
THINGS NOT TO DO:
Stay on the Sidelines.
Being quiet or unaware about your privilege is easier and more comfortable, but it also means that you may be part of the problem by allowing unfair systems to stay unchanged.
We don’t choose our skin color or other privileges, so try not to get defensive or feel guilty or ashamed. Choose to listen, learn, and be empathetic instead. It’s OK to feel grateful even!
Assumptions usually lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings. If you’re not familiar with something, educate yourself instead.
Perpetuate Existing Unfair Patterns.
If you see products or systems that are unfair or not inclusive, don’t look away. Do something to raise awareness or to help change it.