Talking back to entitlement

10 Apr

Today I take off for the White Privilege Conference in Seattle, where I will be facilitating workshops about Talking Back to White Entitlement. There are other identities of entitlement, of course. What’s more, those different identities intersect, overlap and sometimes conflict.

What I mean when I talk about entitlement begins with privilege.

Privilege refers to unearned rights, advantages and freedoms that I enjoy simply because I happened to be born into the norm, majority or preferred group. I didn’t earn my privilege. I just have it. It’s like being born right handed: almost everything in my daily life (including the English language, power tools, cars and your average available pair of scissors) is conveniently set up for me. Beyond the physical and practical, I’m immune to jokes or stigma about my particular handedness, and I can justify my unearned advantage with simple logic: there are more of us. So there.

You can see how whiteness, Christianity (cultural, if not religious) heterosexuality and other majority identities are “right handed,” and how one can be right handed in one aspect of identity and left handed in another. Also interesting to consider: a right handed child can be born to a left handed parent, much like a heterosexual child can be born to a gay parent, or a gay child to a heterosexual parent. More than just loving the child, the parent in both of these situations is tasked with helping the child to navigate through a world in which access, opportunity and status is fundamentally different simply because of who the parent and child were born as. (While this is true of any child and parent, there are many biological traits shared within families that create parallel or consonant experiences of privilege.)

So privilege is unearned advantage, including immunity from struggle or stigma. Entitlement is thinking that privilege is your right. And that’s what I’m going to help people think about and respond to for the next couple of days.

* My source on the literal and metaphoric way to think about privilege is my colleague Steven Jones and his thought paper “The Right Hand of Privilege”: http://www.jonesandassociatesconsulting.com/The_Right_Hand_of_Privilege_ThoughtPaper.pdf.

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