Lessons in Privilege

Many of us are really good at identifying when we are being oppressed, but I wonder if we can notice when our privilege is showing up?

Personally, I hold a lot of privilege. I grew up/currently am middle class, I am highly educated, cisgender able-bodied, neurotypical, and I am a US citizen. When my privilege shows up, it has looked like:

  • any judgements of others or thoughts that make me think or feel that I am “better” than another person. This is literally the definition of supremacy, can be quite subtle, and is the mental foundation upon which privilege is enacted
  • assuming I’m “right,” that I “know best,” or that I have the right to come up with a “solution”
  • not listening to the people who are most marginalized and experiencing the most pain because of my actions or inactions
  • assuming I have the right to intervene, without asking for consent of those impacted
  • fear or insecurity of losing privilege or status, and reacting out of that fear

My privilege showing up has resulted in me causing real harm and damaging some relationships beyond repair, which I continue to regret to this day. And so, I would like to share some lessons I’ve learned about privilege in the many mistakes I’ve made:

  • first at foremost, I’ve learned to listen to those who are most marginalized and follow their lead in advocating for change
  • I’ve learned to ask for consent before taking action and honoring any “no’s” that might show up
  • I’ve learned the importance of humility, and to check my own assumptions about what I “know” and what might be “best”
  • I’ve learned to separate what is and isn’t my responsibility when I cause harm, and how to apologize and do better
  • I’ve learned that making amends sometimes means leaving the other person alone, because trying to repair the harm might actually cause more harm

My privilege will continue to show up in ways that I am unaware of, because there is no “perfect” ally. However, I am getting better at recognizing it when it shows up, making amends when I cause harm, and I will always continue to learn how I can use my privilege in support of those who don’t have it.

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