What are you doing with your privilege? | Kamau Consulting Group

What are you doing with your privilege? | Kamau Consulting Group

In a time when we are facing a racial awakening, I found it of particular importance to explore something that most of us are so blind to. Privilege. Every step of any improvement in our lives affords us privilege. With the very first breath we take at birth to coming of age as adults, we are all afforded some type of privilege. Our society however faced many injustices that categorized life as we understand it today. With the arrival of Europeans in the Americas, Indigenous people faced deceit, death, destruction, and theft of their lands. Their families and cultures were stripped right through colonization and the many injustices that followed; displacement, The Sixties Scoop, Residential schools and many other countless injustices. Francophones had to face many injustices with the conquest of New France with these sentiments still alive today. Blacks were stolen from their lands, enslaved, and shipped to the Americas where they were commodified. They were exploited for their labour and not allowed to participate in society. As Europeans colonized the world, anti-Black sentiments were spread right across the world amongst different races and cultures which still exist today. 

All these injustices and many others created societal inequities which tilted the scale on privilege as we know and understand it today. Some of these sentiments are still very much alive today as a result of the shaping of our history by the dominant group in our society. These injustices underwent immense curating, cleansing & in some instances erased in order to ‘shape’ our understanding of the dominant culture in society. As our societies today thrive in knowledge-based economies, we can only assume the difficulty of breaking through the barriers as one moves through the ‘privilege’ scale.

Most of us have heard of privilege. There are many types of privilege at play today. We have white privilege which is simply a privilege one earns based on the colour of their skin. This in no way means that Whites do not earn success through hard work. It simply means that the barriers they face are seldom a result of the colour of their skin. White privilege does not mean that we do not have White families struggling. It simply means that another ‘privilege’ in our society may be working against them. A White Newcomer to Canada may face many challenges. We cannot ignore the opportunities created by both strong family ties and post-secondary education and not all Whites have these and many other privileges.

Most marginalized communities face an uphill battle to privilege and this is even more pronounced for Blacks. Blacks have too many odds against their favour for what we have as society allowed to go on for so long by being complicit. Most people are uncomfortable talking about race even amongst family members. This discomfort reinforces our complicity. It does not help the cause when all of us are silent about what makes us all so different. In a previous article, I explored why race is such an awkward topic and encourage everyone to take race for what it is and embrace our ‘authentic’ selves.

Blacks are not exempt from privilege. While race does not form part of my privilege as an African Canadian, there are many other things in our society where I consider myself privileged. Strong family ties, a post secondary education, a strong professional network, an early financial education leading to early investments and many others afforded me a privilege that I do not take lightly. One’s simple accomplishment may translate to moving mountains for another individual. Many of us may not realize we have some type of privilege which comes in many forms. While I have overcome many life lessons just like most people, I can never underestimate the fact that there are countless people out there who never had the opportunity to overcome the very first barrier. Some just never did.

I am compelled to share a story about a great friend of mine. His name is Richard and works as a Senior Level Manager in the finance industry. He is the only Black Leader at his level of management in the firm. We shared how far we had come in our lives and how we got to where we are today. His parents faced an uphill battle after moving into Canada from the Caribbean and had to live in between jobs to ensure they put food on their tables. Just to be clear, not everyone has the same story. (I’m careful not to perpetuate any stereotype). Richard happened to say to me that he believed that he got to where he is solely on his hard work and everyone else ought to do the same. I asked him if he thought he considered himself privileged which he vehemently denied. Richard’s parents never had the opportunity to pursue a post-secondary education like he did. Richard believed that if he did it, someone else could. When I asked Richard how he decided to pursue a post-secondary education, he said that his parents encouraged him on the importance of education from a very young age. At that specific moment i said, ‘Stop’. Now that’s the privilege my friend. 

Many of us fail to see the privilege afforded to us. Strong family ties are a privilege. Strong networks of friends and family are not a given. Not everyone has these ties. Not everyone will be there to encourage you along to see the value in something that is so important to your life ahead. We all use a different lens as we pursue our lives based on our experiences. Not everyone has a family & at times, even when they are there, life may not afford them the opportunity to worry about tomorrow. Unfortunately, sometimes not everyone will recognize the value in you as a person with many biases at play. These little words of encouragement along the way as we pursue life can mean everything. Richard’s parents saw value in education and nurtured their kids for the life ahead. A post-secondary education is a privilege and can mean a whole different life to someone who faces many different privileges against them. But not all of us have access to these opportunities. In a society where Blacks face tremendous struggles even with an education, you can only imagine the few odds left in their favour. We must all take a step back and reflect on our privilege. We should never use the overcoming of our life struggles to justify someone else’s struggles to success. We do not all have access to the same privilege. We should instead strive to remove barriers by sharing these tips with those who ought to have the same shot. There is something that is afforded to all of us and we have a responsibility to uplift others on the barriers they face relative to our privileges including uncovering blind spots. As I write this, I am happy to acknowledge that Richard’s lamp turned on and is currently helping young adults with resume’ writing in his community as a way of breaking barriers and giving back. What is your ‘privilege’ today and are you building or breaking barriers with it?

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