4. Acknowledge Your Privilege
Already in this post I have spoken of many luxuries that I have been afforded. Each of us has our own privileges. They may be hard to see, and may be even harder to admit, but they’re there and can result in unconsciously biased behaviours which further perpetuate this privilege. It can be demoralising to accept that we are perpetuating a problem that we may genuinely wish to solve, but acknowledgement is an important step. Similarly, it can be difficult to acknowledge that while we may have worked incredibly hard with what we’ve had, there are some benefits that are simply un-earned.
A privilege is a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group, often undeservedly. By being born in a certain place, to a certain family, with certain characteristics, certain paths in life have come easier to me than they would have had some of these things been different and similarly some things will be further out of reach for me than for others. This imbalance is a tragic truth of our society which we collectively need to work long and hard at to fix.
Early on in my time at ustwo, I jumped into the outreach program to try and ‘give back’. I had initially found ustwo thanks to Gyppsy (ustwo’s longest standing designer and one of the most positive, kind people you’ll meet) visiting my university and speaking with us. I felt indebted to this action and wanted to do the same for others. In retrospect now, I understand that the advice I was giving only really worked for someone as privileged as myself. My family lived in London, so I had the ability to turn down full time jobs to apply for more relevant internships while I could stay at home. I encouraged others to try and find a way to make this happen without appreciating that it wasn’t always that simple.
It took time for me to realise this, but when I did, I was able to adjust my message to be more inclusive and supportive. I now make an effort to reach out past the usual places. Not everyone can afford to attend university — why should those people miss out on industry insight? I mentioned earlier that this post is a small attempt at addressing this, however by deciding to publish via Medium, I am already excluding many people. I am aware of this and trying to consider how I can solve this problem.
This may seem like quite a specific situation in which acknowledging privilege is important, but once again it works on multiple levels. It can be as simple as choice of language. I’m still encouraging myself to avoid the term ‘guys’ when addressing a group. It’s difficult, and I still catch myself doing it. It doesn’t come from a malicious place but can lead to exclusion. Ultimately, my intent is not important in this scenario, the individual who feels excluded is.
I’ve mentioned a few things that I used to be oblivious to and have now become aware of, but I have no doubt that there will be an array of my behaviours which still exclude or alienate others. This is one of the more important lessons to learn and accept. Only by acknowledging and accepting our privileges can we start to level the playing field. Even if we don’t believe we discriminate, by calling our privilege out we can help to raise awareness and begin to chip away at the institutionalised discrimination that so many face.
I think the Johari Window is a great reference here, it’s a technique to help us understand ourselves and our relationships better. Privilege fits into this, we really need to be comfortable in listening to others and how they’re being made to feel in order to better ourselves — for ourselves and for others. My advice here would be to listen and to learn. Where others are happy to open up to you about how they are being made to feel, listen. Where they are not comfortable doing so, make it your responsibility to do what you can to educate yourself and understand their position. Do not expect others to educate you. We need to do the heavy lifting ourselves: to get comfortable being uncomfortable, not to dismiss others, and to be an active ally to those who are underrepresented.