Shifting the Privilege Conversation to Empower Change

 Marketing Director   May 1, 2023  Leadership

Two higher ed professionals having 'the talk' - a discussion about an important concern.

This article is from our partner, Career.Place.

“The talk.”

A phrase that usually evokes an immediate response. Often it brings up memories of that very awkward conversation with a parent or child about the ‘birds and the bees.’

“The Talk” is one of those “if you learn nothing from me, at least know this” moments where a parent conveys to their child a critical piece of information to keep them from making a dangerous, long-lasting, and, in some instances, fatal mistake.

After “The Talk”, we are a little wiser when entering and navigating the world.

But not all talks are the same. There are other topics that fall into “The Talk” depending on who you are. Here are a couple of examples.

“The Talk” extended edition

For women, “The Talk” also includes drink safety. Many girls are taught when at a social event, never accept a drink from a stranger, never let a drink out of their sight, and hold a cup with their hand over it to block anyone from slipping something into it. Why? To avoid the danger of being drugged and all that happens after.

Does this mean all men at parties have a nefarious purpose? Absolutely not. But are there those that prey on women? Absolutely. And so, “The Talk” includes this critical wisdom to protect against those few.

For black men, “the talk” also includes law-enforcement safety. Many black boys are taught that if they have a run-in with a law-enforcement officer that they must always keep both hands visible, they must always obey what is said, and never talk back or be disrespectful in any way. Why? To avoid the danger of aggressive behaviors and all that happens after.

Does this mean all law-enforcement officers have nefarious purpose? Absolutely not. But are there those that are aggressive and dangerous? Absolutely. And so, “The Talk” includes this critical wisdom to protect against those few.

The talk comes in many sizes with many topics. Which topics are covered and how many or how few is privilege.

Privilege is the length of The Talk

In this time of standing up for social injustice, the topic of “privilege” has taken center stage. There are many flavors of privilege – race privilege, socio-economic privilege, gender privilege, etc. But, at their core, one of the most fundamental attributes of privilege is how the world treats us based on who we are. We may all be entering the same room or party or street, but we are not all treated the same way. And the amount of advice our parents give us to navigate that room or party or street is evidence of that inequity.

The question is not “does privilege exist?” (it does). The question is what can we do about those inequities?

The answer: Awareness – Discussion – Action

1. Increase awareness

Part of the challenge of privilege is how unaware many of us are if we are not part of the impacted group. How many men are aware of drink safety? How many non-black males are aware of law-enforcement safety?

Imagine what would happen if we expanded the audience of “The Talk”.

For example, rather than just teaching girls about drink safety, we told everyone about drink safety and why it’s so important for women.

Expanding the conversation (the what, the why, and the so what) to include everyone enables awareness and understanding of the challenge. It opens the door for more productive and informed conversation.

Which brings us to:

2. Promote conversation of solution

Awareness is only the first step. Just because we know a problem is happening doesn’t make the problem go away, and it doesn’t make everyone an ally in the goal of removing the problem. That takes deliberate effort.

In our example of drink safety, imagine now that everyone is aware of the problems that drives drink safety (independent of gender) and are invited into a conversation about what to do about it. How can we, as a community across genders, address the problem? Ideas start flowing, such as training people to notice unattended drinks and speak up should they see suspicious activity.

With ideas there are next steps and community buy-in. Which brings us to:

3. Define and take action

Awareness enables conversation which enables ideas for solutions. But ideas remain powerless without action. Turning ideas into actions that are clear, obtainable, and supported can change the world.

In our drink safety example, imagine that all the ideas are discussed and debated, and a few are selected first. The community commits to a ‘drink awareness’ program where every individual looks for unattended drinks once an hour and removes any they see. Soon, the action of removing unattended drinks becomes habitual and it grows difficult to find an unattended drink, let alone do anything to it.

Bringing it all together

Privilege is very real and very impactful, but it doesn’t mean we are condemned to forever live under its shadow. Taking the approach of awareness, discussion, and action shifts the conversation from the challenge of privilege, to empowering solution. While a challenge impacts some, we can all become part of the solution and change the world.

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This content was published with permission from Career.Place.