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Should I feel guilty because of my privilege?

Should I feel guilty because of my privilege?

The death of George Floyd was a tragedy that never should have happened. The death of every black individual due to police brutality or systemic racism is a tragedy. The evidence doesn’t lie. Black individuals are not only killed more frequently by police officers, they also receive a substandard of medical care, and face various other prejudices, stigmatization, and discrimination on a daily basis. Countries outside of the US are not immune to these statistics either.

This week has been difficult and reflective as I am in an interesting position. As a white heterosexual male I have the definition of privilege. I know aspects of my life have been easier because of the colour of my skin, my sexuality and my gender. My privilege has contributed to a part of my success. 

Throughout this week I have, in typical Dan fashion, engaged my friends, colleagues and strangers in uncomfortable conversations surrounding the current #BlackLivesMatter movement. I wanted to learn, understand, and gain perspective. This is part of my process. It was an emotional week – I felt everything from sadness, guilt, shame, and anger. I realized I needed to understand what it is that I am feeling and WHY I am feeling it. 

I have had some fascinating conversations. Thank you to all of those who participated, our discussions provided me with a great deal of insight. Through this process, I have been able to learn, understand, and maybe even educate or at least pose a different perspective to others that may evolve their thinking. 

So what have I learned?

Many people don’t understand what ‘Privilege’ means. There is a common misconception that if you are ‘privileged’ your life has been a breeze. That you don’t deserve the career, car, money, etc. that you have. That your hard work in life doesn’t matter because you have privilege and would have just been handed it anyway. This was a point I heard from people on both sides of the argument. 

However, privilege doesn’t mean that at all. Having privilege doesn’t invalidate your struggles or hard work. As I said, my privilege has led to a PART of my success, but not all of it. My privilege doesn’t take away from the countless hours of work that I have put in to build my company and brand. Privilege means that certain aspects of my life are easier because of the colour of my skin, my sexuality, and gender. For example: I may be more likely to be asked for information at a pharmacy compared to my female colleagues; I may be seen as more trustworthy walking down the street compared to people of colour; or I may be more likely to get an offer to speak at conferences because it is assumed I don’t have an accent; and, I may also be more likely to be seen as an expert. Our societies and systems may see me that way… and thus I may be provided more advantages compared to others to move my career forward. 

Some have posed the question:

Should I feel guilty or ashamed because of my privilege, or that I have been provided advantages due to systemic racism? My conclusion to this question was, No. There are a couple of reasons why. 

  1. I didn’t create this system. I didn’t actively go out and marginalize or take advantage of others. Am I a part of the system? Yes. And as I become more aware of the issues and my biases, I am working hard to change it. 
  2. Feeling guilt and shame, in particular, are not going to fix the problem. My energy is better spent elsewhere. I am not trying to simply play the naive card but, I honestly did not have enough education or understanding of it. So the only thing I can do is to recognize that and move forward. 

I have never had hate in my heart for any individual because of the colour of their skin or otherwise. My parents taught me to respect and treat those around as you wish to be treated. As I have moved through my life, I have tried to do exactly that. I am not always perfect, because I do, like everyone else I have inherent biases. 

This week has been so important for me because it has helped me to become more aware than ever of my own personal biases and how I can work towards changing our system to make our world a better place. I believe up to this point I have used my privilege for good. My mission in life has been to empower and help all those around me become better and I intend to keep doing that until the day I die. It is about using my privilege to ensure we all have equal opportunities, and that we are not denied opportunities due to the colour of our skin, our gender, or sexuality. We should all be empowered to have the go-getter attitude, and work ethic I possess to go out and change the world. 

The Black Lives Matter movement is not about shaming white people or saying that other social issues are not important. If you feel it is, then your privilege is showing. This movement is about bringing light to the systemic racism in our society. I am very doubtful any of you or anyone I know has played a part in building it. Yes, it was our ancestors who brought about slavery, etc., we aren’t looking at that though. We are looking at how others are marginalized in today’s society. It is up to us to play our part in learning, understanding it and looking at how we can help dismantle the current system. 

No one should have to fear for their life when being pulled over, running through a park, or asking another human being to put their dog on a leash. I will never understand or be able to relate to these problems because of my privilege but I will continue to do my part in calling out racism and doing my best to continually check my own biases. You can too by speaking in moments of injustice. Take a stand vs. staying on the sidelines. Always seeking to learn, understand, and have the necessary uncomfortable conversations with your colleagues, friends and family members. 

Shaming others is not going to make our world a better place. Show each other kindness, compassion, empathy, and love. 

Black Lives Matter.

Yes, All Lives Matter – no one said they didn’t, but right now is about supporting Black Lives, and all people of colour, as their lives are the ones that are currently in danger.

– Dr. Dan

 

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