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Showing Up Privileged

By Jessica Pettitt

Back in 2007, I wrote an article called Showing Up White to demonstrate my whiteness, its privileges, and the importance of this self-reflection. Now, 14 years later, I am still doing this work and inspiring others to do the same. What is interesting to me is that my whiteness privilege is still in full force as is my self-reflection practice and my work with others has inspired self-reflection work from all dominant and/or privileged identities.

When I left the house earlier this month, I realized I had forgotten my driver’s license when I was asked for my id to buy a friend’s White Claws (this isn’t shade – I have been sober for a long time and friends do these things for friend while in quarantine). As a white, cisgender woman, that is closer to 50 than I look, I was able to laugh this off and talk my way through the purchase with half of my face covered. This made me reflect on a program I put together back in 2010 around Arizona Senate Bill 1040 that at the time of its passage stood as the strictest anti-immigration measure in the United States. The program centered on “pocket privilege” in that I could safely drive, go for a dog walk, go out for the evening, in an outfit with no pockets and intentionally figure out where to put a car key and my chapstick and not my identification because I more than likely wouldn’t be stopped or questioned and if I was, I could talk my way out of the situation because I am not seen as a threat. This is showing up privileged.

Moving into Black History Month which the idea of formed in 1915, I have been asked by a number of clients to write something, do something, train on something, and again, I am showing up privileged. It seems everyone wants to do something and be seen doing something and some notice that doing somethings may come off disingenuous or tokenizing to the one or few black or brown co-worker, employee, etc. Moreover, these few folks are tired and exhausted for fulfilling such duties year-round without recognition, payment, or evaluation. I also recognize that I can use my privilege as I show up to encourage others to self-reflect, take responsibility, and do the best we can with what we have some of the time – year-round… so I said yes.

Pulling from the original article, I am going to ask you (and myself) to take notice of as many of the following time I know I show up privileged, in particular white. If you aren’t perceived as white and/or don’t identify as white, I ask you to replace whiteness with a privileged identity you do benefit from in our society. Perhaps it is religious expression or identity, sexuality, gender identity and/or expression, age, ability, access, education level, class, etc. If this doesn’t help, perhaps you are employed, speak and read English, and/or have the ability to be challenged for the shortest month of the year to take notice of how you show up privileged.

  1. I struggled developing this list and have lots of books to refer to as well as a number of supportive communities to solicit assistance

  2. The wording seems clearer to me if an action item that I can fix a problem instead of just sitting with the imbalance of power

  3. If challenged, I tend to cite personal experiences or list off research, statistics, or literature reviews to further enforce my point to “overpower” or “win” a debate instead of hearing another experience

  4. I may be oblivious to oppressive experiences or the hurtful or negative impact of comments made during my conversations, work, or connections with others

  5. I feel the need to know all the answers or control the direction of the conversation within my comfort zone

  6. Using my subordinated identities to justify that I “get it” or distance myself from others like me so that I am not part of an oppressive group

  7. I look to people of color for affirmation, acceptance, and/or approval and if received it weighs more than conflicting comments from others in my privileged group

  8. I use examples of one dimensional identities (specifically Black/White) throughout conversations, examples, or in trainings

  9. I fill silence with my own voice in fear that silence will be perceived as ignorance or incompetence on my part

  10. It is important to me to start and/or end “on time” and to stay “true” to the agenda

  11. I state “Perfectly Logical Explanations” when confronted by my own privilege or mistakes/errors

  12. I don’t have to worry about being perceived or being seen as “in charge”

  13. I claim understanding because I have a(n) (insert subordinated group here) friend, partner, family member, etc., or have taken a class, read a book, seen a movie on the subject

  14. My clothing options, mannerisms, language choices can be much more variable without affecting the perceptions of my leadership or skill

  15. I can be late, forget, or make a mistake, etc., without much ramification

  16. I don’t feel the need to share resources, food, supplies, etc., with others

  17. I can cut in line, break rules, be exempt from rules

  18. People of my race invent new language, holidays, label historical time periods, write history, develop policy, etc.

  19. I don’t make public physical contact with others of any gender that I am with whom I am not in a romantic relationship

  20. I focus on tasks, outcomes, or objectives, over emotions or relationships

  21. I overcompensate members of subordinated groups for their work, input, ideas, or participation

  22. I can walk into any space where I am not authorized with no assumption of ill intent

  23. I can use my power to name the reality of people of color

  24. I can establish what is normal or accepted within any circumstance

  25. I can choose to be silent when it comes to race with no questions asked

  26. I can claim symbolic ethnicity –the power to claim one's ethnicity only when convenient

  27. I can claim my ancestors' historical oppression during a finite period in history as a means of conveying complete understanding of what it means for people of color to experience daily acts of injustice

  28. I can choose to ignore the race or color of my friends

  29. I can choose to never have to answer for behaviors associated with my race

  30. I can deny an inequality of chances between people of color and White people to succeed in just about every arena

  31. I never have to answer the question, "Why are you here?"

  32. I am given the benefit of the doubt without having to prove my value or experience

  33. I find it difficult if not impossible to just say “I don’t know”

  34. I try to control the conversation through establishing ground rules that are designed to make dominant group members feel "safe” and “comfortable" engaging in conversations about "difficult topics"

  35. I feel a need to over-intellectualize topics or keep discussion on a calm/rational level rather than engaging the feelings or emotional experiences of participants

  36. I see people of my race in managerial positions more often than servers, bellhops, or valets. I am rarely served by people of my own race.

  37. I can be more assertive, aggressive, confrontational, controversial, funny, and blunt in my presentations, comments, and conversations both on and off the clock

  38. I can study other races with ease and focus on “them” without reflection or focus on Whiteness or “us”

  39. Crying, guilt, defensiveness, anger, frustration, denial, avoidance, dismissal, disgust of self, are common reactions of mine, as are romanticizing, sympathizing, objectification of other

  40. It is easy for me to sympathize (not empathize) with subordinate groups and say "I wish everyone was equal" but never verbalize or acknowledge that I have benefited from White privilege

  41. Where a person of color may have an easier time coming up with this list, I will not face judgment or disdain from other White folks for having written it

  42. People who disagree with me can do so without getting personal

  43. I am rarely if ever called “exceptional” or “articulate” in feedback as I do not defy race-based stereotypes

  44. When doing Social Justice work, I will not be accused of or dismissed for having a race-based agenda

  45. I get more credit than colleagues of color for my "diversity" work

  46. Doing Social Justice work like tracking observations is not a survival skill

  47. My professional opportunities are perceived to be based on merit instead of the result of Affirmation Action

  48. I experience less rejection based on my race

  49. Figurative language, metaphors, examples, and interactive games are written in my language and from my experience

  50. I don’t have to go to Symbols in word to find the correct letters and accents to spell my name and may not ever have to learn how to do this

  51. I describe my home and have areas that I visit described using a scale of “safety” based on how many acts of violence occur and if I can walk around at night without concern

  52. I am oblivious to the misappropriated indigenous names and language used as symbolic compensation for land that was stolen, genocide, and other crimes against Native people

  53. I employ “umbrella” terms such as Native, Hispanic, Black, Asian, Biracial, etc., to represent other racial groups with little or no regard for the diversity within each group or the preferred terms and labels created within these groups

  54. If I identify as a bi/multiracial person I may be afforded White privilege which personally benefits me, but also alienates me from communities of color

  55. When I am confronted with my privilege and become emotional, I look to people of color to “rescue” me or comfort me

  56. I am afraid to admit I made a mistake, because I am afraid of being labeled a bad person

  57. I may ask others to refrain from getting emotional because it makes me uncomfortable

  58. If I work on oppression issues related to women’s rights or LGBTQ inclusion, I feel pressure to “get it” in areas of oppression like race, class, ability, etc.

  59. I demand being perceived as right, good, and judged on my individual merits rather than my perceived group affiliation

  60. I correct or inform other White folks on their lack of acknowledgment of their privileged status to gain social power over them or to show them how "with it," intelligent, compassionate, or socially conscious I am

Jessica Pettitt: As a professional speaker, her expertise earned her the Certified Speaking Professional designation from the National Speakers Association. A designation held by fewer than 800 people world-wide. As a facilitator, she provides the frameworks for open, welcoming and productive conversations. Jess provides a motivational keynote, an in-depth workshop, or a deeper dive group interaction; she can also frame an entire conference as Emcee working closely with the meeting professional.

Visit Good Enough Now to learn more about Jessica.


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