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Disrupting Privilege Starts With Acknowledging It

I rarely remember to bring a jacket with me when I leave the house. Mostly this is because I have the attention span of gum. But on some level, it’s also because I’ve become conditioned to not worry about inclement weather.

For me, having no jacket means a few minutes of being uncomfortable as I walk from my car into a heated building. Sometimes it means that I’m slightly miserable for the brief time it takes to stand at a gas pump. Decades of having access to resources has enabled me to ignore the risks I take when I walk out the door unprepared.

I can invest mental energy into other things, because I don’t have to focus on staying warm and dry. This is privilege.

Not having to think about race is also privilege.

For most people outside the dominant culture, thinking about race is directly connected to safely navigating the world each day.

One of the most difficult aspects of disrupting privilege is convincing those in the dominant culture that they have it.

During a recent discussion on early messages, a colleague mentioned that he didn’t remember having conversations about race until college. Growing up as a white person in a predominately white community, he said it simply never came up. Even as he finished this sentence, it became evident that he’d never thought of this as a form of privilege.

This well-intended individual thought people didn’t talk about race because it was no longer an issue. Quite the opposite, race was simply not an issue for the people in his community. Because it didn’t have to be—for them.

When confronted with the subject of privilege, most people in the dominant culture will push back. They reject the idea that they have benefited from unwritten social advantages because, after all, accomplishments still require invested effort. In other words, “I worked hard for this. No one gave it to me.”

True, it wasn’t given to you. But maybe, just maybe, someone left a door unlocked for you early on in the journey.

Think of privilege as removing friction. Pushing a sled across the ice is much different that pushing it over shag carpet.

You still have to work, but some facets of your identity (race, gender, socio-economic status) can start the sled on a very different surface.

My entitlement set is different than others, for a multitude of reasons. Access to opportunities, investing emotional and mental energy, safety net resources available to me—these are all largely influenced by where I fit in relation to the dominant culture. Or at least how, on the surface, I appear to fit.

Disrupting privilege starts with acknowledging the uplifts that privilege has allowed. Or, at the least, the points where less friction has cut you some slack.

Originally published at on April 10, 2018.

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