I want to have a little talk today about privilege. Don’t go running away!
That right there is the problem. Those of us with privilege too often disappear from the conversation before it really begins because we’re “tired of being blamed,” or “of feeling guilty” or “of being accused.”
Stop it. Privilege isn’t your fault. And I’m not here to make you feel bad about having it. I simply want to challenge you to do something good with it.
Confession: I spent 90 minutes of my day today in a deprivation float tank. You know you have privilege when you pay someone to take away all of your sensory input. I’m not sure what I expected.
Enlightenment? An epiphany or two?
In reality, I got a salty bath and some significant time in which to hear my breathing sound like Darth Vader.
But on the 89th minute, the lights in the pods brightened just enough for me to see my hands again in front of my face. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen something so beautiful. Narcissistic as it may sound, I fell in love with the sight of my hands. I’m pretty sure the object of affection could have been anything. It was coming out of that darkness and seeing something concrete again allowed me to see everything differently, basked in fresh light.
But here’s the problem. The feeling faded quickly. I wanted to hang onto it but by the time I’d stepped out of the pod I was back in my world where sight was nothing spectacular. It was something I accepted as my norm. Just like every other privilege.
I spent the rest of the day today fighting that norm. Battling for that awe I found when I first regained my sight, and then the sounds of people’s padded footsteps. A watercooler buzzing. All the sights and sounds that slip into the background of our consciousness – just like every other privilege.
Like my whiteness. And my class. And my sexuality and gender.
Sometimes we need to be doused in a deprivation chamber to get us to show up to the discussion on privilege. When most men (and honestly, most women) hear the word “gender” they think, “female” rather than inclusively approaching the word "gender" as encompassing both “male and female and everything inbetween and not.” What would it look like for us all to immerse ourselves into the gender deprivation chamber? To float in a space of non-binary, infinite gender possibilities, such that when we emerged we felt that initial shock of conformity to any one category?
Similarly, when most white people hear the word “race” they think of “people of color*.”
*Side note, despite being a politically correct term, I’ve always hated this distinction. People of color is decidedly exclusive of white – a racial category that needs to not be oblivious to their role in the category of “race.”
Dive deep into the racial deprivation chamber. How do you emerge? More aware of all the opportunity afforded you by your "white-sounding" name? Familiar with the system that produces flesh colored Band-Aids that match your skin-tone, or having soap dispensers that recognize your skintone?
Recognizing privilege has never been about shaming or accusations. It’s about actively holding onto that moment of recognition. That moment when you first emerge to all the things you take for granted. It’s about falling in love again with your race, gender, class, sight, ability to walk, for all it affords you.
So do it! Fall in love!
Then be the catalyst that allows everyone that same experience by ensuring your privilege extends beyond that initial emergence from your blind spot.