I find it hard to relinquish positions of power.
Case in point: I volunteered for a committee at work and was not selected. It bugged me because I knew that I was a strong fit for the project. Hadn’t my experience earned me a place at the table? I whined about it to people who would listen.
To set myself straight, I sought a colleague’s perspective. She reminded me that my perspective would always be heard at work, regardless of my committee participation, because I had access. And that perhaps, in choosing committee members, our leadership team was seeking to broaden that access.
Of course, she was right. The next day when I was walking, I generated a mental list of ways that I have been offered access throughout my life. It wasn’t difficult.
I was born in a hospital that had state-of-the-art facilities and a competent staff. Fresh fruit and vegetables were a staple on our dinner table. My parents raised me in a city with a strong public education system, one with adequate funding, competent teachers, nice facilities, and a multitude of extracurricular opportunities. This prepared me for success after high school. So too did the SAT preparation course that I took. I did not pay my college tuition. The interview I got for my first post-college job came through a family connection. The down payment on our first house was paid with the $20,000 I inherited from my grandfather.
I could go on and on and on. You get the point.
My husband and I take pride in the life that we have built for our family. We see it as the result of a lifetime of hard work and financial discipline. That’s true. But it is also a product of a lifetime of access.
So what should I do with this access I’ve been offered and did not earn? Peggy McIntosh, in her essay, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, poses this question in this way:
What will we do with such knowledge? As we know from watching men, it is an open question whether we will choose to use unearned advantage to weaken hidden systems of advantage, and whether we will use any of our arbitrarily-awarded power to try to reconstruct power systems on a broader base.
With you as my witnesses, I commit to using my seat at the table to advocate for a larger table, one with a broader base. And to graciously offering my seat to increase access.
No more whining.
Photo Credit: Anthony Albright