My reading goal of the year was 30 books, but at that time I didn’t know there’d be a pandemic. Today, a day in June, I’m proudly announcing that I’m working on my 30th book, So you want to talk about race written by Ijeoma Oluo. I was supposed to read this for work a while back, but at that time I was frustrated of all the conversations about racism that associates with no real-time change.
Now, with what’s going on the world, I believe the future will be different. I read the book because I believe conversations about race should not stop happening. If it doesn’t, I better educate myself.
At 3AM last night, I read about “check [my] privileges”. What is privilege you ask?
Privilege, in social justice context, is an advantage or a set of advantages that you have that others do not.Ijeoma Oluo
Privileges are not due completely to my efforts, and they can be attributed to social groups while can also be based on race, physical ability, gender, or class. When I think about it, I agree that I have privileges that I didn’t fully earn, but they give me huge advantages in life.
Here’s what I think are my privileges. I am raised in a big city, an area with higher quality of life than most others in my country. I am raised in a stable home environment by college-educated parents who have taught me the importance of education. I was supported to buy books and got books as gifts. My parents funded my education, even abroad, and growing up I have food on the table 3 meals a day. I am heterosexual, neuro-typical, and able-bodied. I am an Asian, belonging to a race that in today’s society is put higher than many others, and I am Kinh, a group of people that dominates Vietnam, with “power”. I am fluent in two languages, one of which is an official language in most parts of the world. I work at the school, not at an off-campus place that forces me to overwork and be underpaid.
With those privileges, I feel comfortable in certain environments. And that comfortability transforms into confidence in my behavior. These advantages contribute to my opinions and actions on topics such as education and healthcare. Failing to check my privileges, I believe, leads to ignorance of what others need and to actions that can be harming others.
I advocate for women or for equal opportunities in STEM, but failing to check my privileges, I would leave out queer woman, the black and latinx, the disabled and deprived. I would ramble on about self-discipline and courage and mental strength to people with mental illness who struggle on the daily basis.
As Oluo has said, I would screw up. I would walk out of a lot of conversations about race with frustration and disappointment, and perhaps a dozen more negative and unproductive feelings that make me think I’m hopeless. But I am learning, and I think this exercise to check my privileges is really helpful. Acknowledging my advantages, I believe, will lead me in conversations about race with respect and care.
The possibilities of where you can leverage your privilege to make real, measurable change toward a better world are endless. Every day you are given opportunities to make the world better, by making yourself a little uncomfortable and asking, “who doesn’t have this same freedom or opportunity that I’m enjoying now?” These daily interactions are how systems of oppression are maintained, but with awareness, they can be how we tear those systems down.Ijeoma Oluo
And now, it’s your turn. What are the privileges that you have that put you in higher position that others? How can you leverage those privileges to make the world a better place?