My introduction to the term “white privilege” began many years ago, as a young executive in the publishing industry. I was serving alongside a first time CEO. And at the time, I also wasn’t sure why an author would write an entire book on the subject. I am certainly fully aware of the term, its meaning, and its power today.
Growing up, my father taught me that striving for excellence meant being twice as good as anyone else, just to even be acknowledged at the starting line. Average was simply not an option. In fact, both my parents — and my grandmother — helped to pass this lesson down through generations. I began hearing it at the tender age of five.
Fast forward to 2020, and today’s reality suggests my elders were passing on a vital truth. Looking back, my mom and dad never had the full opportunity to climb a corporate ladder. They knew where their middle class ladder began and ended. And I knew it too.
If “white privilege” is here to stay, my hope is we all take the time to truly educate ourselves about its reality by listening, learning, and evolving. If we are going to talk about it — and I mean really talk about it — the conversations must lead to measurable action to help those who are most hurt by this painful truth. We are beyond any moment of empty words. While words matter, lives matter more. We must elevate oppressed communities and heal our country’s deeply broken history.
Quite naturally, this issue has been on my mind for the last few months, but I could not think of a way to clearly express the many twists, turns, ups and downs unfolding in my heart. There were countless questions. How do I approach this topic? How will others receive my perspective? Should I even say anything?
I then woke up one morning with a potential title for an article: “When Privilege Begins At the 50 Yard Line.” The words painted a visual portrait of the painful reality. And racism needs to be spelled out in a way that hits us all right between the eyes. I heard a rap artist say, “You can’t heal what you don’t reveal.”
Here is the bottom line. Now is the time to get real. As Americans, we cannot act like this is a foreign concept — and that systematic inequities do not exist. That said, you may ask, how can you help? What can you do? You begin by no longer ignoring the reality. And here are three ways to start.
Reason #1. Get REAL about what the term means and the benefits that go along with it…
How many times have you heard this term in the last several months? What perplexes me is how the term “white privilege” is so often met with denial and an immediate explanation to the contrary.
If we would listen to learn, instead of listening to respond, we might get to a better place. How can you deny something that is given to you at birth? How can you say that we live in a fair society? How can you deny that there are zero benefits associated with the term? Deep down, I want everyone to understand their position and move through life to use it for those who are oppressed. It’s pretty simple. Here is one call to action. The next time someone speaks to you about this term, take a moment to listen; then assess your body language and how it makes you feel. If there is an emotional jolt, it cements a deeply rooted issue you carry around — and it is time to deal with your reality.
Reason #2. Finally REALIZE that privilege does not begin at the starting line. For most, it starts at the 50 yard line…
Did you ever think of the term in this way? Everyone can visualize “The 50 Yard Line” on the football field versus the end zone. It really puts it in perspective when you don’t have to think of ALL the things that come along with privilege in general, let alone white privilege. We all start at different places in life and to say that we are ALL the same is an indictment on humanity. It is the way it is until we unite to arrest systemic issues in this world.
I vote for corporations to take the lead. It is pretty visible and invisible for some inside those walls. When the title of this article first dawned on me, life started to connect and make sense in an entirely different way. All we (the collective) want is for the world to understand that people of color MUST work twice or three times as hard to get to the starting line. And in most cases, there will still be a gap. We want to be treated fairly for our contributions – not marginalized based on the color of our skin. WE can do this by accepting the harsh realities many of us face inside and outside of the workplace. It starts with a deep conversation.
Reason #3. Recognize how you can use privilege and position for the good of the many…
So, how can we move the needle forward? How can we come together honestly to have the right conversation with an immediate call to action? First, we must accept the term to be true and amplify our voices to enact real change. We must also think about the good of the many over individualism. Right now, it is not about one person doing all the work. When we speak up and challenge the behavior in the right way, change can and will occur.
We know that this issue isn’t something that will go from 0 to 100 in a matter of seconds. However, coming to terms with it is the beginning. Personally, I’m holding out for hope that at least some will do the right thing, if not all. We are seeing major shifts happening across the nation as I pen this article.
Remember, to walk a mile in someone else’s reality – you may learn something.