I recently attended a graduation where the keynote speaker addressed the topic of privilege. Unfortunately, like so much of our dialog these days, the term was taken far out of context, and that out-of-context interpretation was then politicized. As I walked away, I was disheartened at the misinformation all the new graduates had just received.
It did get me thinking about how we can combat this behavior. Since I only have a voice inside this industry, I figured it was as good a place as any to start. So, please indulge me for a few moments as I write about privilege in the AV industry, what it is and what we can do about it.
So many of us are afraid of discussing these topics — for a variety of reasons. Issues like privilege have, in many ways, become political; they are uncomfortable to discuss and we are not always sure what we can do in light of recognizing privilege. So, let me start by using myself as an example.
I am privileged because I am a white, heterosexual male with an advanced degree. Due to these advantages, I have never been refused a job because my name “sounds different” or because the male interviewers wondered if I can really understand technology. No one has ever wondered if I am “tough” enough. My degree helps open doors immediately. More than once, an initial connection has been made with someone based on where we both went to college. Many people who are like me can recognize from a cursory understanding of history that we do hold those advantages.
For those of us who recognize this, we struggle with the question of what to do about it. This is where the “political talk” and extreme examples often come in. In fact, what you can do about it is really a simple concept. The first thing is to simply recognize it. Recognizing the privilege does NOT take anything away from me. I worked very hard to earn my college and master’s degree. Nobody gave that to me, and nobody is suggesting I did not earn it by suggesting that I have privilege. Rather, it is just a point to recognize that I did not simply get there on my own. I had an entire life and a support system that led me to it, starting with parents who recognized and encouraged getting a college degree. It included having people around me who understood the financial challenges of college, like filling out FAFSA forms. It is just saying I had a benefit that others did not. I think this is such a critical point because it is what so many people shy away from and are fearful about, that recognizing privilege takes something away from them or somehow declares they did not earn something. That is not the case.
You may then wonder what you can do about your privilege after you have taken the first step of recognizing it. This step is a bit more difficult because we are so used to our privilege that we often don’t recognize when it is coming into play. For example, when hiring people or choosing who to mentor, we often look for people that are like us. They may look like us, sound like us or have the same experiences as us. Our natural instinct is to connect to people who are like us. So, we need to work very hard to start thinking about what the skills and values of people who are not like us will bring to our environment.
There are some other things that we can do. We can look in our workspaces for the people who are different from us. What about that tech who does not have a college degree or has not earned their industry certification? Take a moment to ask them why and offer them assistance with the things they may not understand about getting it done. Bring these people to trade shows and walk them around the floor. Spend time with them and introduce them to every person you know and meet. Give them the opportunity to make connections that they did not otherwise have.
You can also make sure work is being distributed evenly and fairly. This includes things like taking notes or doing walk-throughs. Do you ever notice that one person is always talking to the customer while another is quietly taking notes or pictures? Perhaps that has less to do with that person’s personality and more to do with the fact that they’ve never been given the opportunity to be the lead. For a variety of reasons (they are a woman, they are black, they are gay), society has taught us that they are “supposed to stay quiet.” Help show them that that behavior does not need to continue. Give them the opportunity, and then continue to mentor them through it and grow them.
Most importantly, recognize that privilege is not about finger-pointing or making people feel that they don’t deserve something. It is also not about making others feel like they can never achieve something. Those of us with privilege can actually use it for good — if we recognize it. What is political or controversial about helping and caring for others?