Do your very best to gift your privilege forward in an empathetic, respectful and dignified manner, which will help you avoid unintentional prejudicial slights and insults. Learn, grow, and be a privilege gift giver.
When you receive a gift, that means it’s been willfully given to you. You did not have to earn it. You do not have to pay for it. It’s yours. Free and clear. And there is never any expectation that you will ever have to pay it back.
It’s a gift.
No one can ever argue that growing up as a white male in America is surely a gift. You can certainly argue that white American men have had to work hard to earn their pay. They had to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” as folks say. Yes, they had to be ingenious, creative, hard-working, and some were just downright fortuitous. But we must always keep it real that being a white man in America was like having the red carpet rolled out for you as you walked up to those bootstraps.
There were never any laws against white men walking up to those bootstraps.
There were no deed or bank loan restrictions, insurance redlining, employment discrimination, or housing or education bans as they walked up to those bootstraps.
There were no hidden biases, negative social constructs, or doubts that a white man had to overcome to grab a hold of those bootstraps and get to pulling.
Those bootstraps were, well, a gift to white males. As long as they were willing to work hard, they could pull, pull, and pull themselves all the way to the top. It was survival of the fittest. May the best man win. Some did and continue to win. And, yes, that is to be commended.
Yet, since we are keeping it real, no one can argue that the same has been true for women and people of color in America. Wars had to be fought. Laws had to change. Community guidelines had to be rewritten. Housing, education, social reform had to be debated and revised. And the most important and hardest thing to overcome was people’s mindsets. They had to change, to adopt and hold general respect, dignity, and humanity for women and people of color in this country.
No, those bootstraps were nowhere to be found for women and people of color to even get to pulling. Those bootstraps, no pun intended, had to be earned. And for most women and people of color, that meant sacrifice, significant struggles, and assimilation to earn the trust and a sliver of the gift that was given to white men who walked up to those bootstraps and started pulling, way before women and people of color ever could.
Reparation efforts and civil rights in America have certainly decreased the gap to get to those bootstraps for women and people of color in America. Undoubtedly, they’ve certainly benefited, and now, their third and fourth generations can say, in certain respects, that they have been afforded certain privileges. It’s arguable that it’s a gift. Albeit, there are privileges that women and men of color now have, and they’ve worked extremely hard to achieve them, and it absolutely is to be commended. It makes me very proud, as a woman of color, to see this change.
However, sadly, what lingers, even to this day, is repressive and oppressive mental damage, likely due to a lineage of defeated mindsets. In addition, the unconscious and implicit negative biases of the privileged that continue to put distance between historically marginalized people and opportunities in America, thus reducing the privilege one can achieve.
Now, more than ever, with all that is going on in our hurting communities, we all need to give our gift of privilege away. We can start by noticing where we all are in, what I’ll call, the circle of life (borrowing from the movie, The Lion King). We must challenge ourselves to look outside of our immediate circle of influence. Most of us live our daily lives in a vacuum, only concerned with our immediate family and friends, and our own personal needs. While that is necessary, it is also necessary to see the power and influence that we hold, and what impact we can have on others, simply because of our privilege.
After that bit of introspection, we have to take the next step of tuning in and listening to people, such as your coworkers, neighbors, and interest groups, fighting for causes that we never have to think about, simply because of our privilege. We must find a way to engage and ally with them, to give our gift of privilege to them. How do you know what to gift to them? Well, you will only know what to do when you sit down at the table with them and empathize with their pain points and what they struggle with on a daily basis. Perhaps they just need you to introduce them to someone and make a connection, or open the door to a job opportunity, or simply to be a mentor. Whatever you do, try your best to guard against making assumptions and just slapping a gift down without doing the hard work of sitting with them, being a friend, stepping into their shoes and walking around for a bit. After all, the best gifts are from those who understand and know what we want and desire most.
So, now what? What can we all do? Here are a few ideas:
Recognize your privilege. See it as a gift. Some have more than others, as it isn’t just white males who have it now. Do your very best to gift your privilege forward in an empathetic, respectful and dignified manner, which will help you avoid unintentional prejudicial slights and insults. Learn, grow, and be a privilege gift giver. Help someone get to those bootstraps.
Check your biases, so you can wreck your biases. Here’s a fact, we all have implicit biases that we aren’t even aware of, that can cause us to unintentionally discriminate against others. Our job is to become more aware of how we behave. Learn about your biases by taking Harvard’s Implicit Association Test, or just simply do a self audit. Watch these New York Times short 2-minute videos, and read the book “Blindspots: Hidden Biases of Good People” to learn more.
Do Your Self-Healing Work. Oppression and depression can be overcome. It takes daily work to heal the wounds of our past, obliterate negative thought patterns, and to love how God made you. Keep following me and, together, we’ll heal, and get to those boots so we can get to pulling.
Contact me if you interested in having me provide a keynote, workshop or consulting services to your organization or school about this topic.