carrying my privilege

This blog post by Ciji Ann and the included questions inspired some reflection. (thank you!)

Here’s a bit from Ciji Ann’s post to give you some context:

An artist, Susan Harbage Page, from the campus art department came to talk to us about a project she is working on which articulates notions of white privilege. She talked about a number of concepts  and asked multiple thought-provoking questions.

She created a white box to represent her White privilege. Her white box was big enough to be a nuisance and start a conversation. The box was also big enough so that she could not just easily throw it in her pocket or purse and hide it. She took her white box with her everywhere and took pictures for evidence and to encourage reflection. She had pictures of her and her privilege at the grocery store, the gym, out to eat dinner. When looking at the pictures, she realized her privilege influenced where she went, who she saw, who she interacted with,  and that she was socially accepted because of her whiteness. At one point she said, “I live in a very white world.”

Her question to us was this: If you had the opportunity to carry around your privilege for all to see – what would it be? What would your box hold or what item would you choose to carry around that represents your privilege?

As someone both passionate about social justice and who needs to continue doing my own work on the privileges I carry, this is a loaded question.  Before I even started to think about what I would carry, my initial reaction was resistance.  I don’t want to go around showing off my privilege, sheesh.  Much of it is uncomfortable to talk about already and I don’t need some big, awkward item to carry around to call attention to that.  And of course, that initial thought is exactly why I need to think through this, because I do carry my privilege around every day, but because it is privilege, I don’t have to call attention to it.  I don’t have to do anything with it.  I can just walk around carrying all my privileges and go on with my day.  That is my reality.  When I spout off my group memberships, all but one of them are privileged rather than oppressed.   I honestly don’t know that I have the courage to actually carry around an item like this for a week, but here’s some of the things I could carry with me:

  • a white box like the original – evidence of my White privilege
  • a graduation cap – evidence of my education privilege
  • a bible or crucifix – evidence of my Christian privilege
  • a bank or safe – evidence of my socio-economic status
  • my running shoes – evidence of my able body
  • wedding certificate / large wedding ring / photo of my husband and I – evidence of my heterosexual privilege
  • birth certificate – evidence of my age privileges

While these may not be super-creative, they are representative of my privileges.  I cannot imagine carrying all of them around with me all the time.

Some of my thoughts about what it would feel like if I went through with a few of these:

  • Explaining my white box and White privilege would bring up feelings of shame that I have not yet fully gotten a handle on.  Of all my items and all my privileges, with this one, I carry the most sorrow, perhaps because I know that despite the personal work I have done, I have so much more to do.  I give training sessions, comment on how White privilege shows up in the media, yet fail to look at the ways in which I am taking advantage of my own White privilege on a daily basis.  So much room to grow.
  • I value education a great deal (uh, I work at a college, so…).  I enjoy spending my work days with like-minded folks who also value education.  It works out very nicely for me.  If I carried around visible proof of my education, people might “pat me on the back” for my accomplishments or they might wonder why I was showing off so much.  I’m somewhat humble by nature (by values?), but I’m pretty proud of my education.  Stuck somewhere in that pride though, is the failure to acknowledge how easy it was for me to get that education.  College was a no-brainer.  No job after college? Consider grad school.  Loans? You’ll pay them off eventually.  Both of my parents and both of my siblings went to college (three of those four to the same college I attended).  I have done the least work on this privilege and haven’t spent near enough time learning about the barriers to getting an education and how I can work to dismantle those barriers.
  • I’ve always felt very strongly about equal rights (core value) and have most actively sought justice when it comes to marriage equality.  I was very proud when Iowa, my home state, became one of the few states allowing gay marriage.  And while I have spent a lot of time researching, learning, trying to understand, and fighting for this equal right, I know I am fighting this fight from the privileged side.  I see it as a benefit here though, and bear little/no shame with this item.  I’d love to tell you all about my partner AND why anyone should be allowed to marry their partner, regardless of sexual orientation.  Being an ally and using my privilege to give credence to the equal rights fight here brought me into the larger fold of working for social justice.  Carrying this privilege feels the easiest for me, maybe because I feel like I’ve done more work here and have been more of an ally.

My own work will never be finished; there is always more to learn.  Until there is social justice, I will keep doing that work.  I’ll end this post with a quote and a question.  The quote is from my experience at the Social Justice Training Institute.  At the end of the week, there is a button activity where buttons are placed face down in each person’s palm.  Participants exchange buttons until the facilitator says stop – all while not looking at them.  When the time is stopped, you keep the button in your hand.  Supposedly, you will end up with the button you were meant to have.  This is the quote on my button:

If you want peace, work for justice.

The way I see it, large scale World Peace will not come without justice; in addition, my complete inner peace will not come without justice.  And so I work.

Now to the question.  It’s the same one asked of my muse today and the same one I asked myself.

If you had the opportunity to carry around your privilege for all to see – what would it be? What would your box hold or what item would you choose to carry around that represents your privilege?

Be gentle in your work with yourself.

with love, ekt

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4 Comments

Filed under life stuff, social justice, student affairs

4 responses to “carrying my privilege

  1. Being a first-generation college student, I didn’t have all of the same advantages that you mentioned, but still, I had white privilege (and still do.)

    Despite class and the other disadvantages that accompany most first-gens, my white privilege would best be represented by that cool utility belt that Batman wore.

    It is useful always, and it is nearly automatic in that whatever I need, it is there.

  2. Ciji Ann

    This is a fantastic reflection!

    • Thanks so much, Ciji — both for your comment and for the prompt. I really appreciated this opportunity to dig into my privilege and remember why I am doing social justice work. It was a timely reminder. Thank you!

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