Above all, you get the opportunity to choose.
I’m incredibly passionate about helping diverse and marginalised communities thrive.
I identify as black, and I am the daughter of two working-class African immigrants in the UK. I was a first-generation university student. I find myself ticking every single box on application forms to indicate my status across all of these identities.
Don’t get me wrong — whilst I’m mad at the institutional and interpersonal hardships, I could not be more grateful for my experiences, my culture, my perspective. It took me a long time to get here, but I genuinely think who I’ve become as a person, has the capacity to add so much value to conversations, organisations, and communities.
My friends and I had a conversation about the nature of privilege. It comes in many forms — heterosexual priviledge, white privilege, male privilege, class privilege, able-bodied privilege and more. In the quest to be more understanding about our experiences, we picked apart how each of us grappled with one or more of these issues.
As we tried to distil all of these privileges into one phrase, it suddenly came to me.
“Privilege”, I marvelled, slowly sipping my hot chocolate, “is the capacity to choose.”
It was such a revelation to us at that moment. And, the reason I write about this conversation is to help you with engaging with other people in light of whatever privilege you may possess.
Having a social privilege means you get to choose the kind of person you want to be. It meams you will rarely, if ever, be judged or perceived in reference to a defined collective with usually pretty negative stereotypes.
I’m a black woman. For the majority of my life, my achievements and my actions have been perceived in reference to those identities or communities. Sometimes it’s pretty positive. Many of us within the global diasporic black community celebrate when a member from this community is successful — we acknowledge the various societal barriers that means access to wealth, higher education, and more is considered spectacular.
But sometimes, it can get tiring being the spokesperson or torchbearer for a marginalised community. The occupation of space in specific areas becomes draining because not only is there pressure to perform in opposition to social stereotypes, but sometimes you are upheld as the example ‘boundary-breaker’ within your own community. You are put on a pedestal and suddenly, all of your actions are no longer indicative of your own personal drive, determination and general bad-assery.
You rarely are given the opportunity to be seen as an individual.
Man, this one gets me. Having some form of privilege means that that aspect of you is considered the norm.
Take women within industry. Whenever we consider leadership positions, like founder or CEO, men dominate the noun. We often assume leadership to be occupied by men, and add the prefix female to specify gender.
Being considered ‘normal’ makes your life a lot easier. It means you can navigate spaces without sticking out like a sore thumb. It means you have less scrutiny over your actions.
It means just that — you’re normal.
You’re a lot more free to express yourself when you have privilege, because your behaviour is rewarded by the dominant culture you belong to.
For those in the middle and upper classes, it’s acceptable to act out in the workspace as you don’t have the same insecurities as those from a low-income background.We constantly have to look over our shoulders and police our actions, because our next paycheck determines whether or not our family will have enough food to get through the month.
That’s the reality.
It’s interesting that organisations complain about the lack of suitable diverse candidates to assume positions within the team. The lack of confidence, proactivity or suggestion of new ideas can take a while to come. That’s because when you belong to a marginalised community, your position is always precarious.
All it takes is being a little too ‘loud’, boisterous or giving an alternative view point, and your entire livelihood is at stake. For activists, this is a real issue in education and industry because the ‘notoriety’ that comes from championing diversity can negatively impact your success in these spaces. Your actions are punished severely.
Complete freedom of expression is rare these days, but arguably no-one is policed more than marginalised folk.
Above all, privilege gives you a greater hand on freedom.