Fresh off of chapter 3 of Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race, we now enter the check your privilege chapter.
This is a critical chapter to ensure that as we delve into the rest of the book, we are aware of the range of entitlements that have helped us become what we are, beyond all the bootstrapism of being self-made people.
I’ve spent all my life working in jobs, for instance, where the vast majority of my work colleagues were/are white. And that’s not just a function of living in pretty white Vancouver. From pizza restaurants to the suburban Vancouver school district I attended then grew up to teach in, to the university I taught in to the activist organizations I work in: regardless of memberships/constituencies, we’re really really white.
Fixing this is hard. The workplace unions I’ve belonged to are not the managers. They do not decide who to hire, the employer does. And that, sometimes, is enough for us to throw our hands up in the air and say hey, it’s not my fault that most of my colleagues end up being white. That’s a cop out.
Unions can negotiate employment equity provisions, then put a lot of human political capital into enforcing them. We can force change through our solidarity. But we have to want to.
These are pretty common workplace race dynamics. And they all reflect how entitlements seep into workplace dynamics and entrench white supremacy.
All I know is that over the years I’ve catalogued my entitlements. I’ve used this process to argue against the blessed myth of meritocracy that suggests that we have objective means of ensuring the best people get the best jobs. Whatever.
And in trying to ensure that I don’t get so full of myself to preach my bootstrapism, there’s great value in reminding ourselves the gifts that have given us advantages:
- I was born in Canada.
- I’m white, male, cis, heterosexual.
- I speak English.
- I don’t have red hair, because…you gotta read this.
- I was raised in an upper middle class, Judeo-Christian suburban Vancouver community.
- I was raised in at least an adequate emotionally and psychologically stable home.
- My parents were professionals; my father had 2 degrees.
- I was neurotypical, free of physical disabilities.
- I had easy access to $70k in student loans for 3 degrees and 2 post-secondary certificates.
- I have always had stable housing and reliable transportation.
- I had access to welfare payments for 3 weeks after my first degree when life was brutally whacky.
It’s so easy to celebrate all the successes I’ve accomplished in my life, but if I think that everyone in society has equal access to the opportunities I’ve had because of my demographic advantages, I’m deluded.
We should all step our self-awareness to track the entitlements we carry around with us. They’ll help us stop presuming others have had it so easy.
And, when Oluo moves into the intersectionality chapter, we’ll be more capable of understanding our place in it.