We All Have Privilege
by Cassendre Xavier
Privilege is a touchy subject. As a persun of color I have witnessed white folks’ reactions to the concept vary from painful, useless guilt to hazy-eyed denial to angry defiance. I am black, and I have mostly white friends and lovers. One of the early tests I have for friendship is to see if my white friends recognize their privilege. If my white male friend denies he has white male privilege (regardless of his economic background, he is still, in my opinion, better off in this society, than a man of color), this means we have little further to go in getting closer. I often say that I feel most comfortable with white folks who recognize and readily admit they’ve received benefits from living in a society that places their so-called race above all others. It’s the ones who say, “Oh, I’m not racist. I don’t have a single prejudiced bone in my body. My best friend/ex-spouse/you name it is black/Mexican/you name it!” that I go running to the hills.
I recently lost a friendship over this issue, which doesn’t, as my preceding words would imply, necessarily only have to do with so-called race. Privilege crosses many areas. In this case, my long-time friend and ex-lover had posted on a social networking site annoyance and frustration over us “New Agers” promoting abundance in the face of poverty and lack.
I was stunned that my friend, who was a very industrious and consistently gainfully employed performing artist and author of several non-self-published books. I was surprised that a white persun, who received royalty checks, performed paying speaking engagements around the country, and lived in the most expensive city in the United States, arguably one of the top ten most recognized and touted cities in the world, who was well educated, and fully able bodied could lament what I was about to say next:
What I could not put exactly into words was that from what I’d learned of New Age spirituality, we create abundance with our thoughts and it doesn’t matter how much or how little we have, we aren’t supposed to dwell on what’s lacking, but try to make the most of what we have. I explained that I didn’t know exactly how to word the answer to this question I’d for years asked myself (Why are so many lacking if there is infinite abundance? –A question to which I now know and have memorized the answer – but that’s for another article!), but that I believed my spiritual teachers (most of whom are authors of books of New Age spirituality), when they said that the answer was not to focus on the scarcity and lack.
Then I went on to mention my beliefs. I said that I believed that we all are privileged, far beyond what we can see. I mentioned that the “thread” of folks posting on the “Wall” of my friend’s social media outlet indicated privilege. I said that if they were posting on this website, they had a computer or access to one, they had limbs and eyesight (or the humyn or technological assistance to operate without the full natural capacity of their limbs and eyesight), they had the time, and they had the intellectual capacity to do so.
I didn’t understand how someone so privileged could lament so fervently against these notions, stubbornly refocusing so much of their attention on the supposed wrongs of society that would leave others without, instead of being willing to look at our own selves and notions of scarcity. To me, the only way to begin to heal the lacking was for us all to focus on abundance, and to use this abundance mindset to share from our abundance and to teach others the abundance mindset. It matters not if one has a hut or a mansion, a fully functional body or a differently abled one, a very large bank account balance, or a paltry one, the concept is the same. There is no good in placing blame and our entire focus and energy on expressing anger at supposed injustices of class and economic privilege, or lack thereof.
Could it be I have this view because I come from a long line of people who made do with less and used this less to create more? I’m first generation American born of Haitian and Chinese heritage? Surely, having parents who immigrated from some of the poorest areas has given me a view of this land of milk and honey that others don’t?
My friend was very angry at my comments. So angry that I was “unfriended” (yikes!) and even temporarily “blocked” (yowzers!), to my dismay and confusion. But I stand by my beliefs, which are as follows:
Everyone is privileged. Each of us has some level of privilege, which we can choose to see or not see, increase and act upon or not increase and act upon.
I believe everyone alive has the privilege of being alive over those who are not alive. (Dead people can’t enjoy making goals, work towards them, live their dreams, taste ice cream, or have sex while giving their consent. Sorry. Hadda go there! However, their spirits make them so much freer than anyone in a fleshly vessel. If I were only a spirit, I’d have a long list of my privileges, but I digress…!)
I believe that every black female has the privilege of being female over being male. (My male relatives and friends are often being “profiled” or otherwise harassed by racist law enforcement members. Even I, sometimes, when walking down the street or entering an elevator, experience the frightened looks of whites, who, upon seeing my female gender-revealing breastal units, choose to either remain on the same sidewalk as I, or enter the elevator with me. Very often I give thanks for the privilege not to have to defend myself or have my day negatively affected by this phenomenon from which many of my black male contemporaries cannot currently escape unless they change their skin tone, gender, or geographical setting. But, if I were a black male, I would make the most of my male privilege wherever possible, and I would take every opportunity to seek and maximize all areas of my privilege, including the ability to use my mind, body, and whatever else the Good Universe saw fit to bless me with. But I digress…!)
I believe that being able-bodied and having a brain that works is privilege.
I believe there are many other examples of privilege we could all think of, including, of course, economic privilege, and while I may be using the wrong word – perhaps I really ought be using “blessing” or “advantage”, or “gift”, I choose privilege because it allows us to seek and find things in ourselves and our lives we may have overlooked.
Take it from this black, female, non-hetero, full-time artist whose family and ancestors worked very, very hard for her to be here, sitting comfortably at a kitchen table with a laptop, sharing from the joy in her heart with faith that her actions of giving of her love and talents would continue to translate into the “energy exchange” of cold, soft-and-fuzzy, lovable and loving cash: I appreciate my privilege.
How do you appreciate your privilege?
What are some ways you may have not (yet) noticed you are privileged?
What are your gifts?
How do you see yourself as more privileged than others who may not have your gift(s)?
How are you showing gratitude for your gifts?
How are you expressing your gifts or privilege?
How do you share your gifts or privilege?
May all you do celebrate all that you have, all that you are, and may all be served by your being.
Thank you for allowing me to share my privilege with you today!
Cassendre Xavier (aka Amethyste Rah, aka Amrita Waterfalls) is a multi-media artist mostly known for her music and writing. A singer-songwriter and guitarist described by Borders Books as “a cross between Tracy Chapman, Sade & Enya”, she has released six albums. Cassendre also released the guided meditation recordings Affirmations for Survivors: Self-Love, and Affirmations for Survivors: Spirituality. In addition to being published in various anthologies and periodicals including When Falls the Coliseum: a Journal of American Culture (Or Lack Thereof), Dykes With Baggage: A Lighter Side of Lesbians in Therapy, The Butch Cookbook, and We’Moon: Gaia Rhythms for Womyn, she is the author of This is What a Millionaire Looks Like, Expanding Your Capacity for Joy: a Raw Vegan Comfort Book, Sourcebook & Journal, Making of a Woman/Artist: a book for every black girl & every black woman who has ever wanted to be an artist, You’re So Articulate! (And Other Things White People Should Never Say to Black People), and secrets & lies: poetry and other words. A Leeway Transformation Award-winning community cultural arts organizer, Cassendre is the founder and director of Philadelphia’s 8th Annual Black Women’s Arts Festival, as well as the Women’s Writing & Spoken Word Series (Est. 2002). For more information, please visit www.cassEndrExavier.com.
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“We All Have Privilege” (c) Copyright 2012 by Cassendre Xavier. All rights reserved. For more information, please visit http://cassendrexavier.com