In the book So You Want to Talk About Race, there is a section where Ijeoma Oluo states that every year she writes out her all of the privileges she has in life. She did this to check herself on the assumptions she makes about what others can do based on her own abilities and lived experiences. I know I do the same as she does. Sometimes I catch myself, but most of the time I don’t.
After reading her book, I had to write my privileges down. I hope this document helps make me own up to what I’m doing that marginalizes others and centers myself. By doing this, I can transfer my privileges to those around me by not thinking from just my viewpoint. By sharing this document with others, I hope my peers and students hold me accountable and can call me out when I do something that marginalized someone else and centers myself. Just like Oluo, I know I will miss some of my privileges, and that’s part of the reason I’m doing this. I plan to keep checking this document and add to it.
Here it goes.
I pulled my sword — actually a turkey baster — out from the back of my shirt and shouted, “By the power of Grayskull I have the power!” After turning into He-Man, waving my turkey baster around, I roamed around my house saving the universe. I saw myself in He-Man: Master of the Universe. I was three.
It didn’t stop at three. I was born with white skin and grew up in the United States in the ’80s and ‘90s. During my childhood — and still today — almost all mainstream media centered around what I looked like. From home improvement shows like This Old House to TGIF on ABC, I saw myself everywhere. I was Bob Villa, the authority on how to build a house. I was Uncle Joey, always able to tell a joke. I easily identified with all of it.
As I got older, I was Luke Skywalker and James Bond. The white patriarch was everywhere. The males were in charge and continued the narrative that the male was supposed to be in charge. It was my privilege that I have always seen white males in the lead. I was going to save the day.
Even though I grew up with privilege, my privileges started before I was born. My ancestors can be traced back to coming to this country in the 1600s — all willingly. I can trace — my mom has traced — almost all of my ancestors’ journeys to the United States. Throughout the generations, my family finally settled in a small, mostly white, English speaking, rural town. While some of my ancestors experienced prejudice, they never experienced systematic racism and neither have I. Because of where my family chose to raise me, I never had any difficulties fitting in. Furthermore, I’ve never had to change or hide who I was; most people I was with looked, spoke, and acted like me. This privilege has extended to everywhere I have gone. Even when I have traveled internationally, I know that American culture and English have crept into almost every corner of the world. It was and is my privilege to travel freely around the world without fear or having to change who I am.
My family supported me in high school, so having a job was only something I got if I wanted extra money. In that same vein, my family mainly paid for my college, and I walked away with my undergraduate degree and with minimal debt. Within a month of graduating college — through the connections of one of my college professors — I filled a maternity leave and then was hired in the district I’m currently working. I’m privileged to make enough money to live comfortably and have healthcare. I’m part of a union that is supported and fought for the working rights that allowed me to continue to grow professionally. However, that growth has been on my terms, at my pace. I’ve never had to be uncomfortable unless I wanted it. At my job, I’m viewed as a professional with more or less an expert opinion by the students and staff.
As a cisgender male, I never had to hide my sexuality. I’ve never been made fun of for who I chose to like or love. I’ve benefited from being in a patriarchal society. Even though I’m horrifically awkward, I’ve never felt I couldn’t ask someone out or approach someone. Eventually, I did find someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with; My wife and I never had to deal with any hardships because of who we decided to love. That is my privilege.
As a 6’4’’ abled body male, I’ve never had an issue moving around. I’ve been able to participate in almost all activities in my life. My height and general athleticism have allowed me to pass through society with authority. As a tall male, I assume power and status without having to do anything. Other than jokes about me being too tall like, “how’s the weather up there” it’s all been lighthearted. Again because of my height, skin color, social class, and gender, I assume it is okay for me to speak my mind in almost all situations, and I have to remind myself to allow others to talk.
I have lived my entire life with the privilege of never fearing the police. Even when the police were involved directly in my life, I have never feared them. When I was pulled over, I knew I would be okay. I have freely called the police when I felt a situation needed it and felt they would be there for me. I have never feared to be anywhere. In my twenties, I sometimes would go running at eleven at night never fearing for my life. In my mind, the police only protected and served me.
It’s taken me 37 years to do this. While I wish I would have done this earlier in my life, I realize how much my privileges have shaped how I teach, create lessons, and interact with each student. Moving forward, I plan to make changes that transfer my privileges and decenters myself.