“We always ask: Why are all the black kids sitting together?
No one ever says: Why are all the white kids sitting together?” ~ Colleague
In February, I attended this fantastic in-house professional development session for work. 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. I wanted to be intentional and reflect on the questions she asked as well as share her questions and my thoughts with you.
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.
I have given a lot of thought to what my item would be, or what would go in my privilege box. Would it be my engagement ring which represents the privilege of using the word fiance, holding hands in public without fear of judgement, my marriage being recognized by law, having the choice of who I am marrying?
How about my iphone? My running sneaks? My degrees? My whiteness? My gender?
As I thought about it more and more, I realized, I know exactly what I would put in my box. One of my privileges is my voice. My voice is my means of expression, how I articulate my dreams and goals, how I communicate my love to those I care about, a huge part of my empowerment. My voice helps me articulate that although I come from a low income, first-generation, single-parent, culture of poverty – I am anything but a statistic. My voice is how I fight stereotypes, how I advocate, and how I share knowledge and ask questions.
First and foremost I am privileged to have the physical ability to speak, laugh, scream, sing. I have the ability to laugh out loud until tears stream down my face and I snort, to speak my vows out loud to my now husband, to comfort and celebrate with friends who are far away. I was born with this ability and it is sincerely a privilege. I was also born with a loud, boisterousness, personality that helps me take full of advantage of having a voice.
Second, I live in a place where I have the right to speak, vote, protest, choose, and tell the world how I feel and what I think. There our women in our world who do not have this option, women who are beaten for expressing their thoughts, for fighting for rights, and for advocating. I am privileged to be part of a culture where this is not (usually) socially acceptable.
Third, I am part of a community that encourages me to use my voice to find and give empowerment in a variety of ways including, social media, presenting, skyping, and talking on the phone. I am part of a community where I can share my voice, my voice can be heard, and I can hear the voices of others. This is a privilege.
If I lost my voice, a privilege, tomorrow, would I find a means to do most of these things any way? You’re damn right I would, but my life would not be the same.
So I pass the question on: 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 to represent your privilege.