Jul 10, 2024
4 min read

Let’s Talk About Privilege

I spent the last few hours on a call with community leaders of a school located in the vast, remote fringes of Australia.

This group of people laid their hopes and aspirations out in front of me, in a very vulnerable and humble request for help to fix what is broken in their school, and their community.

These were leaders who had lost the ability to keep their children in school for various reasons stemming from systemic racism, through to inequality, poor health outcomes and their organisation being run — for decades — in a culturally unsafe way.

During this call, before I answered a question or uttered a single word, I kept reminding myself of the privileged position I was in, to simply have this conversation from the safety of my office as a parent of children who don't have to worry whether their school will open tomorrow.

When we talk about leadership we conveniently forget how privileged we are to have the opportunity to talk about anything at all. And yet, both leadership and creativity are the fertile ground upon which to talk about the privilege and the privileged.

Our profession often puts my team and me in a position where we must be attuned to those who are facing, or have faced, economic, educational, social, physical and systemic disadvantages; and this has meant we learn to see and be conscious of the privilege that we hold.

In the spaces we enter, and the spaces we create for others.

In the dialogue we facilitate and the relationships we foster.

In the partnerships we have, and the ideas we bring into the world, we must all be conscious of our privilege and that of others.

Privilege is about advantage, power, and the vacuum that exists within organisations, industries, relationships, partnerships, our meetings, workshops, families, friendships and communities — when these two things belong to one group and not the other.

Privilege allows some to be silent when others are being discriminated or oppressed.

It allows opinions to take flight without fear of how hard they might land; allowing some to say and do what they feel without fear of judgement or recrimination.

Privilege is the ability to remain oblivious to the pain that someone else is feeling and to sit within this oblivion even when it has been called out.

Privilege is the ability to make plans to go where others can not go and do what others can not do, because of the disability, inability and lack of social, economic, political or psychological resources available to them.

This advantage over those less advantaged can be used and abused, and unfortunately it often is.

Privilege comes to life when you haven't read the room but also when you think the room is yours and yours alone, inhibiting your ability to see the ever-present layers of advantage and disadvantage that we all hold.

All of us.

As the son of migrants from a generation who made braver choices in a single moment, than most people make in a lifetime, I have learned the greatest lessons about privilege first-hand.

As the grandchild of refugees who were told to take their children and their belongings, leave their homes and never come back, I have heard the echoes of discrimination and felt the plight of the refugee so deeply when I meet families that have had to start from zero, again and again.

As a business owner I have had the privilege of sitting in the seat that decides and I know this is something I must always be aware of.

As a person with olive skin, an ethnic identity I am immensely proud of and a longer surname than most, I have had to listen to the jokes at my expense and learned a life-long lesson about privilege, what it means to use it, abuse it and have it placed in front of you so others can do the same.

As someone born in a country that is relatively safe for me but not for others I am always consciously aware that I must go beyond acknowledgment and become an ally for those less safe than I.

As a professional I have seen how privilege is used as a corporate weapon; sometimes carefully disguised as doing good in an effort to hide the fact that some are actually doing better.

As a young person growing up in a non-English speaking family, I've learned how different people will always see the world in different ways and that privilege is more complicated than this very simple essay.

Privilege isn't easy to talk about because it makes us uncomfortable.

It is sometimes difficult to accept, and often, even more difficult to acknowledge as our own.

See you next week.

Tagged: Awareness · Consciousness · Privilege

This essay was first published for subscribers of The Weekly Journal of Creative Leadership and is copyright © Dimitri Antonopoulos, Tank Pty Ltd and can not be re-published without the express permission of the Author.


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