The Cross of Privilege

It was a cold day in Atlanta as we trudged through Midtown towards the Amnesty International offices where we would be engaging in a training to become facilitators of Amnesty’s Dismantling Oppression Workshop.  I had a few expectations of what the workshop would entail and thought that I was relatively well prepared for becoming a facilitator of the workshop for other Amnesty groups throughout the Southeast.  As far as I knew, I had lived a fairly normal life.  I didn’t come from a super wealthy family and had attended public high school and was attending a public university for my undergraduate studies.  There really wasn’t too much about my life that I felt was noteworthy or of any particular importance as it related to other people.  All in all, I felt that I was the exact same as the person to my left and to my right as we all stood in a single line, shoulder to shoulder, for our first exercise of the morning.

That first exercise was something called the privilege walk.  The facilitator of our training also stood in line with us with a sheet of questions and directions for us to take as a response to the question.  For each question, participants either took a step forward or a step backward depending on how you would respond to the prompt.  For example, if you were a white male you were told to take one step forward.  If you were not white you were to take one step back.  If you were a woman, you were to take an additional step backward.  If you were able to take a vacation in the past year, you were to take one step forward.  If you were lesbian, gay, or bisexual take another step back.  If you were transgender, you were to take an additional two steps back. The exercise continued in this fashion until we reached the end of exercise.

At the end, we all looked around to see where we were relative to those that were in the training with us.  Many of us were surprised to see where we stood in relation to each other and to see that we were not, in fact, just like the person to the immediate left or right.

I was definitely surprised to see that I, ordinary little ol’ me, found myself out in front of just about everyone in the group.  I think there might have been one other person that was on the same plane as me, but it became abundantly clear to me that I had access to the most privilege in our group.  In fact, if I had been given the instruction to take one more step forward, I would have run into the wall of the room!

It was something of an epiphany for me to see just how remarkable my life had been up to that point.  I had not thought of how many things in my life, which I considered ordinary, were actually vestiges of privilege that allowed me to do things that other people simply could never dream of doing in their lives.  It was a moment that caused me to pause and to consider what having access to privilege really meant to me, and it was a moment that caused me to ask myself how I would make use of that privilege as I moved into the reality of being a young adult in a rather tumultuous and, as far as I could see, unjust world.  It was a moment of revelation, a moment of self-reflection, and a moment of calling. Continue reading