Privilege and Bias

This blog/website is not intended to be overly political.  There is just so much negativity in that area that I prefer to focus on what I feel are more positive aspects of life that can be shared and bring people together.  But, there are times and movements that come along that require people to speak out for what they feel is right and share those thoughts with as many as they can.

For the record, I am about as “white” as you can get.  I am a red-headed Canadian of Scottish and Scandinavian heritage.  The sun officially hates me, and my picture could be in the dictionary as an example of “white”.

It has been hard over the years to hear about the “privilege” I had as a caucasian male, as it certainly never felt that way.  I did not grow up in a well off family, and have certainly felt that I have earned anything I have received through hard work and a strong sense of trying to do the right thing.  However, after moving to the U.S. several years ago I began to finally understand what the “privilege” was that so many people were talking about.

I was very fortunate to have grown up in a country where multiculturalism was a goal of the society, and while it was certainly not perfect, you could see the tangible efforts being made to try to understand different cultures and perspectives.  While the home I grew up in was far from enlightened, I was able to move to Toronto for university at a young age and was able to spend the better part of twenty-five years living in and around that beautiful city.  My daughter’s earliest memories are of the friends we made in our condo building, and for her they were not Egyptian, Iranian, Spanish or Caribbean, they were simply our friends and people who cared about her.

However, upon moving to the Southern U.S. I suddenly have thought more about race and bias than I have ever before.  It is just such a large part of the culture down here, for good and bad, and it is absolutely painful to see a generally high intolerance for those who are different.  These divisions are not just based on race, but clearly now in this moment, that is where the focus deservingly needs to be.  How is it that we are still arguing whether it is okay to display the confederate flag, or continue to upkeep monuments for those on the wrong side of the Civil War.  Removing those memorials have nothing to do with erasing history, as it is incredibly important that we ensure future generations understand all aspects of those types of conflicts.  However, the title says it all – when you call them memorials, you are citing something designed to be looked up to as if the people depicted did something heroic or important to pushing our society forward.  These are not figures who should be looked up to, and if you are going to make a stand that removing them somehow is erasing history then I’m sure you make the same argument when monuments to autocrats and dictators are torn down around the world.

It has finally become clear to me that I have enjoyed a tremendous amount of privilege simply because of the color of my skin.  I hate to admit how hard of a truth that was to accept over the years, but admitting it does not take away from what I have accomplished in this world.  It just opens my eyes to the reality that as we gain leadership positions and any bits of authority we owe it to our society to do better and work to lift everyone up to the same level.

I loved the post from Seth Godin recently where he compared the simple advantage of having shoes to the lack thereof, and more importantly how ensuring everyone has shoes does nothing to lessen those that already have them.  I’d like to think I have lived a life where I have minimally judged people on their appearance or beliefs, and instead on their character, but I know that I can work to be better in those regards.  More importantly, I need to ensure those I have the privilege of having an impact on – my daughter, those I am lucky enough to coach in amateur sports, and in my capacity as a leader/mentor in my everyday work role – understand how important it is to ensure we extend these “privileges” to everyone.  

I will no longer sit quietly when wrong things are spoken for the sake of keeping things polite and not making people uncomfortable.  It is not enough to simply try and live true to values of equality and fair opportunity, I need to become much more active in making that world a real place.  In the scheme of things my role in this is small, but if most of us do the small things and allow space for a few to do the big things real progress can be made quickly.

I used to make a joke whenever going through customs crossing between Canada and the U.S. or going through airport security that I was a red-head white guy from Canada which meant I never had to worry about passing through with relative ease.  Looking back, that was far from a joke and is in fact a sad statement whereby I could not understand the real fear and unease someone could have interacting with authority just because of the color of their skin.  I pledge to be better, to speak up, and to actively work with those around me so that everyone can live the life they want to.

The Free Range Viking

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