Identifying our Unconscious Racism

Guest post by: Jodi Ashton, Educational Consultant, Leading & Learning

I wasn’t born into privilege; I was born with privilege, a privilege I never really knew existed until almost four decades later. I equated the word privilege with money, just as I had always associated the word poverty with a lack of money. I certainly had a lot of things to unlearn and learn, including my place in society. 

My daughter and I recently watched the documentary, “Becoming Warren Buffett,” in which he stated, “I won the ovarian lottery.” My daughter asked me what he meant, and that sparked a great conversation about our whiteness. As white people, we are born with unearned privilege. This advantage silently guides us, influences us, and creates blind spots to other’s realities. Many of us don’t even realize we live with this privilege, in large part, because we are conditioned to ignore it. 

For instance, growing up, I always saw myself, my family structure, and my faith represented wherever I looked. As I become more aware of my privilege, I become increasingly more conscious that not everyone has the same opportunities I do. 

A big part of this realization comes from self-awareness. We need to pay attention to the silence of privilege. We need to notice and name when privilege interferes with ensuring opportunities exist for everyone. 

If you think it doesn’t happen in Ottawa, you would be wrong. My colleague and I are board members for a charitable organization. Recently, we went to open a bank account for our organization in Uganda. The experience was like nothing I had witnessed before. My colleague was belittled and undermined for the simple act of opening a bank account. I had never experienced so many hurdles with a simple bank transaction. This treatment was not new for my colleague. When I objected to how the agent was treating us, my colleague became visibly uncomfortable. He told me if he had challenged the bank teller, security probably would have been called. He experiences this type of discrimination frequently. 

We must challenge what we know to be wrong! When something is not right – speak up! Silence is compliance. It’s essential to learn more about the impact of privilege. We must lean into the discomfort, as this is where ‘aha moments’ happen, and change follows. (I genuinely feel the bank employee learned something that day). Our kids must learn other’s perspectives and understand their privilege to help dismantle it. As we say in education, learning is a journey, and it is our responsibility to be engaged in it continuously. Our kids need us to be. 

Sources used in this post:

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack – © 1989 Peggy McIntosh

Why We Should Celebrate Black Authors During Black History Month – Parents for Diversity, Feb. 2020

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