Sharing Privilege is Showing Gratitude
I’ve been experimenting with engaging in dialogue about the impact of Whiteness over the past few months. I am a white Canadian woman and I’m interested in understanding how my race lands in different contexts. The inquiry arises: what is the experience and impact of (my) whiteness in this context?
In this blog I’ve spoken about the history of socially aware and conscious women in my family. I understand now though that when it comes to race, it’s a conversation I am only just beginning to have in my family and with other women. When I speak of (my) whiteness I am connecting to my biases, assumptions, and privileges in the world. I am aware that whiteness and race is socially constructed. Yet, they are real and have impact in this world. It is this impact that I am particularly interested in.
To begin with, my whiteness grants me privileges. I am grateful for the privileges that it has entitled me to. These privileges can be seen spatially as if apart of a hierarchy. And it is this hierarchy that leads to white superiority.
From an equity point-of-view, these privileges demand that I do what I can to level the playing field. What else do these privileges ask of me? When I was a teen, I was guaranteed summer employment at the company where my father had been employed as the Treasurer. He died when I was 11 and (this is the way white privilege works) but they were true to their commitment many years later. Many of the people in the Executive circle he had associated with were still employed there and those relationships remained in effect for me.
At this time, there were only white folks working at this company, employing over 500 people. The Executive was all white and the factory floor was all white. That is unthinkable now in 2019. The 60’s were very different in Montreal. Like the rest of Canada, the immigration laws have allowed more people into the country in each successive decade. It is clear to me now that First Nations people, though, were not employed at this organization. The very people who were on this land before the Colonial immigrants.
While I was employed there I heard heart-felt stories about how my Dad had assisted them. First I heard that he walked around the factory floor every day at lunch. As he strolled he engaged in conversations with everyone. Everyone, that is, that was English-speaking.
At that time in Montreal, the French culture which considered at a in a lesser-thank power relationship to the Anglophones. Being an Anglo in Quebec at that time had its own associated privileges. I’d have to say I don’t know if he spoke to the Francophone employees because I never heard those stories from them. Was that as a result of my lack of French-language skills or was it because my father’s prejudice or lack of French speaking skills prevented him from reaching out to them?
That’s hard. It’s challenging confronting the origins of our privileges. I feel embarrassed and small. The legacy of a privileged social group casts a long shadow.
As a bracket, it’s important to note that other identity-based influence social positioning. Especially, when it comes to privilege. The “founding fathers” of Canada were both English and French. Together, they form a cohesive White power that is privileged. When they are separated, they fight, compete and dominate each other.
While I heard stories from many Anglophones about how my father had helped them with immigration matters, getting papers so that they could live and work in Canada legally, navigate many systems that as immigrants they were unfamiliar with. As I listened to these stories, I was filled with pride. They taught a powerful lesson to me about sharing privilege with others as a form of gratitude. Sharing privilege is a way of demonstrating gratitude for my (and one’s own) privilege.
This is the first result of this inquiry question. I’ll be forming gatherings around this question over the next few months. To participate, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.