Respectfully Pointing Out Privilege

I was in a professional development once and the presenter was identifying students in a video that they were about to show. They identified one student as an African-American boy, another as a girl, and a third student as the other boy. The audience was divided into three groups and each group was assigned the task of evaluating a different student for their presentation style.

An African-American woman then asked, “What is the race of the other boy?” The presenter recognized their mistake (of using race to identify one student), how it sounded, and apologized immediately. It turned out that the presenter could not identify the race of the other student (he was Asian). We had a laugh as a group about trying to identify the other boy’s race.

What struck me about this interaction was two things. First, how often privilege is invisible and we don’t even realize it. It is so easy to speak without realizing how it sounds to others and the assumptions that we are making. Second, the way this lady pointed it out in a non-threatening way. She made her point without accusing, getting angry, or causing any kind of disruption. She also did not assume that the presenter was racist.

Sometimes I see situations like this (especially on social media) escalate to where both sides end up angry with each other and offended. I find this intimidating and makes me not want to talk about race issues with people like this. I hope we can find ways to address issues of race and privilege in civil ways that lead to tolerance, respect, and understanding.

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