by: Miki Kashtan on November 25th, 2016 | 2 Comments »
“Having wealth is unjustified, but the Rockefellers justify it by doing good. I had to cut through all this and understand that there is no rational justification for my family having the amount of money that it has, and that the only honest thing to say in defense of it is that we like having the money and the present social system allows us to keep it.” — Steven Rockefeller, 1983
There’s no way around it: facing our own privilege is uncomfortable. Just now, before completing this piece, I was talking to a friend who told me, in so many words: “I am ashamed of being a man, and I am ashamed of being white.” He is far from alone in this discomfort. Because we live within modern, capitalist cultures which are highly individualized, we often don’t see the structural dimension. Many of us then struggle to separate out privilege from attitude. In this context, having our privilege pointed out to us often sounds like we are being told we’re a bad person. This makes conversations about privilege highly charged and often ineffective.
After almost two years of facilitating Facing Privilege calls, I have come to believe that something better is possible. We can frame things in a way that shows the reality of structures of privilege and minimizes any unnecessary challenge.
It starts with recognizing and naming that since privilege is structural and not individual, it has nothing to do with goodness or badness. It’s plainly a factual reality about life. The key is to focus on two distinctions: systems as distinct from individuals, and having privilege as independent of choosing how to engage with it. Since both of these distinctions tend to be obscured, I have found that people often find relief in teasing apart these two aspects of privilege.