In this post I will break down the 5-6 stages of accepting your privilege, how it affects those surrounding you, what you can do about it, and how to stop making it a problem/issue for people like me to solve.
When I conduct workshops outlining practical steps to increase intersectionality and representation within the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) I begin with what I believe to be a foundational element: understanding privilege.
Once an individual understands their privilege they then have the ability, if they so choose, to use their new found understanding of their world to lift up the voices of the marginalised and overlooked.
In short – using your superpower for good.
In order to do this I ask the participants to complete a shortened version of the privilege quiz that can be found here. When people are confronted by their privilege I have noticed a range of emotions that overwhelm the participant, which mirror the 5 stages of grief. I have experienced these same stages myself.
‘I am not racist, sexist, etc.’
‘How dare you make a value judgement about my character!’ ‘I helped with X event which means I am a good person’
‘I’ve struggled too which means I can’t be privileged’
‘Does having privilege make me a bad person?’
‘I acknowledge the world caters for me in ways it does not cater for others. Therefore they have a much harder and different experience’
These stages can also be present during causal conversations, when someone’s privilege is indirectly pointed out to them. Everyone has different reactions to processing this information, but more often than not denial, anger and bargaining overlap.
On many occasions this reaction manifests itself in unintentional attempts to undermine or bully the speaker into taking back their point, or absolving the participant of their unknown complicity with the oppressor. In a day-to-day scenario this may be dismissing the claims of a person from a marginalised group or gas lighting their worries and experiences.
Very often the speaker or person being dismissed is someone like me, someone from an already marginalised background who works to assimilate into a system that was not created with them in mind. The extra emotional labour of arguing for the very existence of different types of privilege removes time that could be taken to break down those power structures to aid everyone.
It is not the job of the oppressed to become a metaphorical punching bag because of the guilt/anger felt due to circumstances beyond individual control. However, there are some things that can be done.
How to overcome these feelings:
Accept that you had no control over who/where/when you were born.
All peoples are born into a Eurocentric, colonised, racist, patriarchal, ablest, neuro-typical, homophobic and transphobic society. A society which historically refuses to acknowledge first peoples, people of colour, neuro-diverse people, the LGBTQIA+ community and, people with disabilities. It is important to understand many of the ideals we may hold are shaped in this environment. Therefore removing the emotion and becoming objective about our privilege will assist in understand the plight of others and our ability to become an ally.
I have experiences these feelings myself. Accepting my privilege alongside the ways society lets me down are two sides of the same coin. I have been afforded some privileges and not others. None of this is my own doing, but what I do with it is my responsibility. For example; I may be a queer, woman of colour, with borderline personality disorder, dyslexia, dyspraxia, from a working class immigrant background. But I am a university educated, cis woman with no physical disabillites, with secure employment and a safe home.
The latter gives me the ability to educate myself on the issues surrounding me to overcome depression/guilt, gain acceptance and…
Become an ally
Work hard to gain a full understanding of privilege and the power it affords you, use that superpower for good.
Be like Pat Stew
[Meme with quote: ‘People won’t listen to you or take you seriously unless you’re an old white man, and since I’m an old white man, I’m going to use that to help the people who need it. Image of Patrick Stewart holding a sign saying ‘Defend rights for women and girls’]
This process is different for many people and will be an ongoing process for many.
However, working on these issues can bring us closer together to work towards dismantling the structural regime that overlooks many groups, assisting us in the need to increase intersectionality and representation within the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM)
If you’d like the learn more why not check out the intersecetonal GLAM conference in August 2021. Information available here