I’m writing this as I leave the company of a referral network of worldwide lawyers. I’ve spoken to these types of organizations before, and this one is much more international than the others. I’m in a foreign country for their annual meeting, and I’m struck by the privileges I have as an American. All of the interactions I have had in the week included some version of English….they knew what to do with me. My language skills for their native speak were weak, at best, and in those moments, I really understood how US citizens (and English speakers overall) dominate the globe.
I spoke about the necessity of inclusion as a business imperative in law firms back in May at the ALA Annual Conference 7 Exposition, going directly at challenging each of us to understand our bias. Let me add to that challenge by asking you to raise awareness to your privilege. Where are you benefiting from being __________ – places where others aren’t. I feel this as a frequent traveler when I don’t have to take my shoes off, or my laptop out. I know it’s a small thing in the grand scheme….and that’s my point. These benefits we receive are small, and they stack up.
This was most glaring for me when I participated in a weekend retreat where the facilitator was pointing us to our mindset about privilege. We were in the middle of listening to his lecture when he shifted gears. As instructed, we turned around to find piles and piles of clothes from a local donation center. We were given 5 minutes to find an outfit (yes, shoes too), return to our hotel rooms and change into it while removing all jewelry and leaving money and phones behind. We returned to the lobby to be escorted outside and have soot dumped on our heads and bodies. A shuttle took groups of us to various points in the city, where we were simply told “be at XXX address at 5:30 today” – which was about 7 hours from now!
I was reminded of my privilege as I walked the streets, using this time to think and contemplate projects, work stuff, etc. I paused to look at a restaurant menu to pass the time and was promptly approached by a very large man in a suit – “you don’t belong here, move along”. WOW. I could return to have lunch here when I had money from my room, and he had no idea. I walked as I would any other time, when he might have engaged me differently. This experience has left an indelible mark on me. I’m grateful for the advantages I have, which I believe holds me in good relationship to the entitlement that can ensue if privilege isn’t raised into our consciousness.