Ask yourself, "What is my privilege?”, or if you really want to crack that egg open, “What are my privileges?” Answer with answers and not questions.
I can walk down the streets in my neighborhood with a literal ‘Mega Millions lottery long shot’ little risk of being shot. I can go about my day without being unduly pulled aside and questioned by authorities. Even on my worst days, when my anger and frustration spill over, those feelings can be expressed without societal retribution. I can tell others how I feel without being negatively labeled. When I get pulled over by a police officer, there is a 50% chance I will be let go with a warning. I can run anywhere in my city for exercise!
Now, reverse it and take a blind-folded attempt at empathy. Ask yourself, “What would be my liability if I was of a different race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion?” This time answer with questions, because, let us be honest, can you really know enough to answer directly?
If I was black, what would my experience be if I walked into a convenience store with a face mask, worn to protect me from a highly contagious virus spreading in the community? What would happen if I was noticed by a police officer while I was driving around with expired tags or bad headlights? What if I reached into my vehicle glove box to get a registration slip? Should I go bird watching in Central Park? Should I jog through a different neighborhood?
If I was a woman, what would my experience be if I spoke up during a company meeting to tell a colleague I disagreed with their comment or approach? How safe am I if I decide to go on a date with someone I just met? What if I expressed myself with the same candor as him?
Instead of continuing with these hypotheticals, allow me to describe my own privilege. Not once, but twice, in the past three years, I was pulled over for driving around at night with my headlights off. The first incident resulted in a ticket and the second a polite warning to be safe. While living in Chicago, I would drunkenly climb street signs, light posts, and billboard poles. I have, to my shame, been too outspoken at work at times. I have made inappropriate jokes that people outside of my immediate sphere could hear. I have spoken with frustrated tones in meetings. I have been promoted half a dozen times, sometimes with minimal effort.
Over time, I have truly lost memory of all those experiences that have opened up, effortlessly, to me. I have felt safe and in control almost, every time. The point is not to brag. The point is to say there are two starkly different Americas. Those with privilege need to recognize the system is not equitable and has never been equitable. One of the saddest things I have come to reflect on is that systemic racism exists not just from a historical context, but from the perpetual need of some to assert a level of dominance over another group of individuals. In other words, in a hypocritical inverse of existence, it is the freedom to take the freedom away from another based on their ancestral origin and the color of their skin. It is unspoken but seen every day across America. It is not Freedom. It is Freedominance and it is disgusting.