“A key aspect of privilege is being oblivious to that privilege…” – Peggy Macintosh
As a former history teacher, and a professor of a “diversity in education” course for teachers, I think about “privilege” often. In fact, I have contemplated this topic off and on for several years – my own privileges, and at times, my lack of privilege.
Racial privilege, socio-economic privilege, religious privilege, body size privilege, gender privilege, sexuality privilege, energy direction privilege (extroverted versus introverted)… Privilege is one of the most difficult concepts to freely discuss as it is a difficult concept to view objectively. It requires putting aside all sense of ego and self and to truly hear what another is sharing even if you don’t initially understand.
To ease into this highly debated topic when teaching a class, I introduce the idea of handedness privilege. I was oblivious to right-handedness as a privilege until I was raising two left-hand dominant sons. From three-ring binders to scissors to chairs with attached desks to reading and writing… I began to see all around how people who were right-hand dominant had many advantages in our society simply due to institutionalization. And in my course, I see the spark of awareness arise, resulting from the conversation among teachers, as they investigate their world with a new “lens.”
Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times author tackling the depths of racial privilege, states that it is difficult to understand how “past discrimination shapes present inequities.” Just because one knows of historical events doesn’t mean that one fully realizes each intricate way in which an event, or person, left an imprint – a ripple effect – through our society. He continues to write, to question, to offer data even though he is not sure his writing is “making a difference” – opening a conversation.
I applaud him. In light of many recent events, I think the conversation is finally just getting started on a national level. It is an uncomfortable conversation, no doubt, for many. It involves analyzing the sociopolitical intricacies of our country, realizing that “working hard” sometimes isn’t the sole determinant of an outcome, and suspending judgment to hear the story of another’s journey.
Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, wrote, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Maybe we need to just listen a bit more – and defend a bit less. Remain committed to continuing the conversation – and understand one’s perspective a bit better.