Danielle Chassin Hippie in Disguise Shabana Buwalda

Unpacking, Owning and Leveraging Privilege

Danielle Chassin Hippie in Disguise Shabana Buwalda

Photo credit: Shabana Buwalda

I have the privilege of Caucasian skin tone

I have the privilege of Canadian citizenship

I have the privilege of roof and shelter

I have the privilege of mental health

I have the privilege of physical health

I have the privilege of a conventionally abled body

I have the privilege of literacy and language

I have the privilege of education

I have a privilege of geography

I have the privilege of stable employment

I have the privilege of 5 physical senses

I have the privilege of stable family

I have the privilege of heterosexuality

I have the privilege of species

I have the privilege of not knowing my other privileges

I want to say that I have the privilege of being a woman and mother, but these are not privileges in the sense of the word ‘privilege’ here.

Instead, I will cast them this way: I have the immense benefits that come from being a woman and mother, of mixed ethnicity and Indigenous descent. While these are not privileges in the contemporary sense and certainly not in every space, place and forum, they are gifts for the awareness, compassion, understanding and open-mindedness they cultivate and require to survive and thrive in spite of these dimensions of being that are unjustly devalued. I own and cherish these aspects of myself that bring challenge and struggle, but I also own my privilege. I have to admit, own, and dismantle the unfair benefits I reap from my many privileges. I have to leverage my privilege to the benefit of others, not myself.

Unchecked privilege permits us to look the other way, to be silent, to be too tired or too busy to act. Please understand that if you feel as though you can dismiss this, then you are privileged.

I am privileged. Let’s stop being afraid to say it! I am privileged.

But, let’s be afraid, ashamed and embarrassed when we do nothing with our privilege but serve ourselves. I can’t change most aspects of my privilege, but I can change how I use and leverage it.

Privilege is a form of domination. While it is impossible to exist outside domination (power relations) – and, all of us, in one way or another, dominate someone or something — we need to recognize, call out, and awaken ourselves to domination. We need to dismantle it whenever we can. We need to shift and share power. (For those of you afraid to share power, please remember: Power is like love. When you give it away, you don’t have any less of it, in fact, sometimes it grows.) Don’t be afraid to share power, be empowered to.

The fact that we can’t step outside domination, does not validate any and all forms of domination. Do not let anyone persuade you to think that because domination is ever-present that it is also necessarily right or justified or that it can’t be diminished. I dominate grass when I step on it. I dominate flowers when I pick them for art-making and home décor. I dominate pears when I choose to kill and eat them for my own survival. These are not the same as other forms of domination, but they are domination and I have to admit and own that. (And, one of them is absolutely unnecessary). I have to ask myself how I can shift, share or relinquish power in these and other instances? My relationship to the pear, should awaken and inform me about my relationship to all others, human and non-human.

Once you’ve checked your privilege (is it white privilege? it is religious privilege? is it gender privilege?) please remember this is only the beginning. Acknowledging privilege is step one. It’s not a test you pass and then you’re done. It is ongoing: it is daily work, attention and care. Does that sound exhausting? It can be. But you know what? When we all work together, we can do hard things. Let’s support each other in the work of unpacking and dismantling privilege.

So, you’re working on deconstructing your white/male/religious/… privilege? Great. You’re not done. Next, please acknowledge that you have many dimensions of privilege and work on the rest of them. One of the biggest blindspots in discussion of privilege is species privilege. We must as a species acknowledge and dismantle the unfair advantage we take from nonhuman animals, plants and ecosystems. We are not better or more important than them. We simply aren’t. If that makes you uncomfortable, sit with that. Privilege isn’t all fun and games.

Finally, please don’t wait for the perfect time, place or way to start talking about privilege. Perfection is an illusion and excuse. We need to challenge cultural expectations of perfection and flawlessness, so that we can move forward, do the work and make important, overdue changes. Please do not let perfection paralyze you on this topic, or in life in general.

What are your privileges? And will you leverage them for the benefit of others?

And, please, feel free to tell me which privileges of my own I’ve not woken up to. But it’s not your job to educate me, I know.

Danielle Chassin Hippie in Disguise Shabana Buwalda

One thought on “Unpacking, Owning and Leveraging Privilege

  1. Victoria / Justice Pirate says:

    Very nice.
    I have been taking note more and more lately of how privileged I have been and how I am treated when out and about. I wonder how I would be treated if I were a different color or size or something. It makes me sad to think it would be different than how I am treated. I wish that I could better understand the pains that those who don’t have what I have or look as I look so that I can help them better. I am thankful that I have a church filled with cultural differences who have shared what they’ve gone through because of their skin or the way they speak. I have learned so much and hope to continue to do so. Wonderful post.

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