Privilege

My previous post was a little all over the place and admittedly surface. If you don’t belong to the societal privilege group, it has a ever present impact on you subconsciously. You tend to make a habit of keeping quiet about things the world tells you is just whining, and you also know that this causes set backs.  The truth is, I have always had a lot of self-reflection about my identity as a multi-racial female and what that meant.  It is something I am always trying to figure out, because just like Elliot put it, when you are bi-racial you don’t feel like you quite fit in one place or another a lot of the time.  However, for the most part, I have felt pretty blessed to feel like I have the best of both worlds and I owe a lot of that to my parents.  

My mom paved an incredible path for us, which I have never quite recognized the entirety of, but am learning more about the insurmountable obstacles she had to overcome.  

She was a minority woman who came from another country… by all means, she did not have any “privilege.”  Yet, she received her PhD,  built an incredible career, received many accolades for her work, was respected by many people across the globe for her work and service, raised a family and so much more.  She did all these things in a time when the world was far less open to everything that wasn’t supposed to be available to her.  

I have an early memory of one of overhearing one of her employees, when I was in elementary school, recalling in disgust, a business trip they had in the south where there were still “colored “bathrooms and drinking fountains and having a dialogue about that.  I felt a twinge of shame, that I had color on my skin, because that had a negative connotation to some.  Privilege to do basic human things, were not for all. 

When we moved here from New York, my brother who is “darker” than I, experienced privilege in sports, not in his benefit.  There were a few teams he had spent games on the bench.  It didn’t fit…he had never missed practices, in fact, he was always the first one there and the last to leave.  He was humble, coachable, yet determined to work harder and longer than anyone else, and was truly a magnificent talent.  The times my (white) father had finally had enough and confronted coaches (spread throughout elementary jr.high and high school, he received comments such as, “Yeah, he is the best on the team, but I don’t play mexicans.”  Another time my father approached a coach when this was going on, he shook his head and walked away from my father. My dad followed him and demanded that he tell him why he wouldn’t give my brother play time. The coach still not wanting to talk about it, got in his car, slightly rolled his window down and with shame in his voice said to my father, “I’m sorry Robert, it is my issue. I have a problem with ni****s.”  In pretty much every case, after they discovered that my brother was not mexican, not black, but polynesian, things turned around for him and they not only saw him for his talent instead of his race, but he went on to do tremendous things in the sport.  Privilege and its sometimes intricate nuances exist, everywhere.  

A while ago, I worked at a high end establishment for a short amount of time before I became an assistant manager in one of the departments.  This was a big deal in many aspects, and one of the perks of this promotion was a salary, plus commission.  When that advancement happened, I did not feel “privilege” for I was professional, honest and worked hard.  I had built a solid and loyal clientele that increased business and the bottom line for that department, in other words, my numbers spoke.  The manager happened to be a female as well, and after I had gotten the job over 2 male co-workers, the ugly remarks started to fly.  It was clear they felt they should have gotten the job, and also that they should have been the manager/assistant team…not the two females.  They made remarks about how they thought we really got those positions, and it was degrading.  They wore me down, and for a little bit, I wondered if they really should have been the ones holding the “power.” When buyers and higher-ups would fly in from all over, and we would go off to business meetings and luncheons, this particular male coworker would get into my head, that maybe I was not equipped to handle the business meetings with the guys (all the higher-ups were power men).  I had to hold my own, and I could not show that I was at all flustered.  Privilege is not just for race.

If I were honest with myself and did not try to push it below the surface, I could write chapters about the way I have perceived the power of privilege in my life throughout the years. I have been on the positive and negative side of those privileges. While there have been strides taken because of remarkable people who have climbed those seemingly insurmountable stairs of silent societal norms of who should and shouldn’t have privileges, there is much more work to be done. 

 

 

About the Author