I’ve been thinking about the phrases “white privilege” and “white fragility” for a while. Both of those phrases often trigger a bunch of emotion that ends up being counterproductive to any attempt to discuss equity or increase equitable outcomes. And then, as it often happens, I read an article and a light bulb went off above my head.
The article itself, like so many articles on the topic of equity, racism and bias, tended to paint everyone with a broad brush. I should have expected that and steered clear, because the title–How to Show White Men That Diversity and Inclusion Efforts Need Them—didn’t do anything to divert me from my previous assumptions. But my curiosity was peaked by the boldness of it all, so I trudged on.
What got me started on a revelation was the author’s assertion that we all carry with us a sense of identity, and that this identity can have a profound effect on how we experience life.
Of course, before reading on, I had to think about what my identity was. And the first thing I thought of when trying to figure out I was most closely connected to, was “creativity.” Whether it’s solving a problem, taking a picture, writing, and so on, being creative is very much an important part of my identity and something I have always felt affected my life. Another person who I asked to process the same article indicated their identity to be their hair–or its color, specifically. Yet even a few others who also read the article cited things like being athletic, or having a set of mechanical skills.
When discussing the things above, we might as well have been talking about cereal or wallpaper because they were so innocuous in comparison to what we could have identified. The “a ha” moment for me came when I wondered what it would be like if our identity set us apart just enough that we had to continually think of it? What if instead of the color or our hair, how much we knew or our level of creativity, it was our gender identity? Our race? Our socio-economic status?
You see, it was at that moment that I realized I have the luxury to experience an entire day…or week…or even month…without having to process my environment, my safety, my happiness, using my identity as the lens. I, like many of the people in my orbit, rarely have to wonder if I will see anyone that looks like me or wonder whether security will follow me in this store because of my identities. It is privilege that I don’t have to over compensate how I dress so that people wont make assumptions about me. It’s a privilege I don’t have to worry about where I get gas, or what restaurants I visit. You get the point.
Privilege doesn’t mean I haven’t worked hard or earned what I have. It also shouldn’t dismiss any challenges I have faced. It just means I have the privilege to live my life without listening to a constantly running narrative about what others think about me, or worse how they will treat me.
I know the words “privilege” and “fragility” can cause immediate discomfort. Please know it was not my intention to do that. I do, however, think it is good for us to confront things that cause us to be uncomfortable and reflect on why that is the case.
For me, despite my feelings about the title of the article I read or the way the author generalized some of the examples, it made me realize that instead of being defensive when someone refers to an injustice they feel or experience, I should start with empathy. More importantly, it’s also worth considering that for people who are part of marginalized communities, those feelings of discomfort really can’t be avoided–the discomfort can only be endured.