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Confronting my own privileges

Confronting my own privileges

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by
Aya Fubara Eneli, M.A., J.D. AYA ENELI
INTERNATIONAL

As open-minded and empathetic as I strive to be, a recent project I have undertaken is showing me just how blind I have become to my own privileges and I want to do my best to guard against making decisions that are comfortable for me with no thought as to how they impact others in differing circumstances.
I read a definition of privilege that really struck home for me. “Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it is not a problem for you personally.” Recently, I found myself very irritated and making assumptions about parents whom I perceived to be unresponsive to their child’s needs. I had sent them an email and followed it up with text messages to ensure that they were aware of the plans to honor their child’s senior class. When I finally did reach the parent, he explained that though he and his wife both work, he did not have access to email or text messages because he can’t afford to pay for Internet access or a cell phone or a data plan. He wasn’t being a ‘bad’ parent; he just hadn’t received my messages.
There was nothing inherently wrong with my mode of communication. I chose to communicate in a way that is widely acceptable and successful with people of my economic means, and never once did it cross my mind that not all are privileged to afford the extra costs of modern technology. But my lack of awareness could have resulted in a child feeling neglected and unimportant.
I am privileged to have been born to educators and so I grew up with books, as have my children. I tell my kids that they don’t get to look down at others who have not had the same advantages. They didn’t choose the circumstances of their births or the environment in which they were raised.
I am privileged to have had parents who were emotionally balanced and able to raise me in a stable environment and instill in me respect for self and others and a hunger for excellence. It’s an unearned privilege to have such parents and when I meet people with low self-esteem or who appear ‘un-refined’ or make choices differently than I would, I am learning to acknowledge my privileges and rather than judge, to find a way to positively impact that person or situation, if they will let me.
Last month, I saw a glaring example of privilege at work in the public arena. A community meeting was announced between police, elected officials and citizens of the community. The forum was scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. in a location in a more remote part of the community and in an area with no public transportation after 6 p.m. A good Samaritan came through with assisting with transportation to and fro, but I couldn’t help but wonder why a forum designed to attract citizens, many of whom do not own personal vehicles would be held at such a location. The decision either spoke to unrealized privileges or lack of concern for those negatively impacted.
I am not the only one paying more attention to unearned privileges. Jane Elliot has been teaching on white privilege for years. Others have spoken to gender bias and the privileges that accrue to men just by virtue of their gender. And there’s much more.
Consider this write-up by Jonah Smith-Bartlett, a minister and fiction writer who also happens to be White, “Like many kids I liked to escape into a world of imagination- most often into a world of comic book superheroes. In that world, I would run faster than the speed of light, exhibit super strength, or fly high above the earth. I used action figures and wore superhero-theme pajamas. Best of all, come Halloween, I could find a costume and transform into Captain America, Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Spider-Man, or the Flash. There were no Black Panther costumes. No Cyborg. Black Lightning, Luke Cage, Storm, or Falcon. For Halloween, black kids had to double down on secret identities. Before they could pretend to fly they had to first pretend that they were white.” It’s a privilege to know that for the most part when you walk into a store, a school, a library or watch a movie, you will see images that affirm you. The same does not hold true for far too many in our society.
What’s the big to do about privilege? “When you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” When we are unaware of our privileges, we tend to be judgmental. We unconsciously shut doors of opportunity to others. We become defensive if anything challenges our privilege. Men feel they have to protect the status quo from women encroaching on their territory. The well-to-do make sure that future developments do not include introducing low-income housing within a certain are of their beautiful mansions. The elite work to keep those “other” kids out of their schools. Some feel threatened by any call for justice by marginalized groups.
I know that while I may influence others, I cannot change anyone but myself. So, as I unpack my privileges, I am committed to looking inward, to paying attention and to listening to others so I can be a resource for good in our world.
Aya Fubara Eneli is a best-selling author, Christian Life Coach, Inspirational Speaker and Attorney. Her life’s purpose is to empower and equip people to live up to their highest potential. She welcomes your questions and comments. For more information, visit www.ayaeneli.com, follow her on twitter @ayaeneli or e-mail her at info@ayaeneli.com.

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