Pivoting from privilege

June 2021

Sometimes it seems as though the whole world is awash in white supremacy, white racism, and whiteness itself. This makes confronting these lethal threats to our very existence seem overwhelming.

When this happens to you, take a step back and take control. Be the change you want to see. What can you personally do to make a change, or pivot, from wrong-column behavior to right-column behavior?

Not certain if this applies to you? Check the self-assessment list below.

Either/or thinking
Believing people are racist or not racist, good or bad. Seeing incidents of inequity as isolated events.
Systems and complexity thinking
Understanding context and intersectionality. Seeing patterns, holding contradictory thoughts and feelings simultaneously.
No consultation or transparency in decision making. Taking over campaigns, mediating, and facilitating others.
Decision making is clear, affected parties are consulted. Evaluations include staff at all levels. The leadership of Frontline communities is respected, nurtured, and preferred.
Taking unearned credit for wins. Coopting local organizing efforts, or the work of other staff. Treating core campaign issues as more important than issues that other people are working on.
Taking time to build relationships based on trust. The focus is on “building a bigger pie” instead of fighting over a slice. Mutual support and promotion of other’s campaigns and issues.
Power hoarding
Ideas from less senior people are treated as a threat, information and decision-making are confidential. Holding on to resources, scarcity mindset.
Power sharing
Ideas at all levels are valued for the positional expertise they represent, ideas from others are requested and space is made for them to be heard. Budgets are made available for viewing, providing input on, and resources are shared equitably and appropriately.
Comfort with predominantly white leadership
Defaulting to all or mostly white leadership using urgency and lack of available, qualified people of color as justifications for doing so.
Leadership representative of the communities most affected by inequity
Take time to weave into the fabric of the organization a critical mass of equity-oriented people of color in leadership and on staff at large. Create inclusive culture. With graceful awareness, acknowledge that we’re all unconsciously socialized to see physical features that are more white European, including lighter skin, as “better.” Be mindful of how norms of the white, middle class can easily permeate the main organizational culture.
Individualism and Separateness
Focus is on single charismatic leaders, Working in isolation, from each other and other organizations.
Community and Collectivism
Working together, working from a movement lens. Understanding that to change everything takes everyone. Understanding interdependence of all social struggles. Working for all who are impacted by destruction and seizing of land, air, water, and climate, especially those hit first and worse.
Fear of open conflict
Right to comfort. Politeness is valued over honesty. White fragility goes unchecked. Those who bring up discomfort for others are scapegoated. Useful feedback not given promptly resulting in underperformance, lack of growth, and a distorted sense of how one is doing. Smaller problems left unattended become bigger ones down the road.
Direct and constructive feedback; Growth and learning
Peers call each other in and continuously learn from each other. Managers are skilled at providing timely, supportive feedback in culturally and individually responsive ways.
Priorities and timelines that perpetuate white supremacy culture
Sense of urgency for funder-driven deliverables, but not for community building, capacity building, or equity work implementation.
Priorities and timelines set for sustainability and equity
People have space for what comes up that is important to address at the moment. More realistic timeframes set. Allocating time for the unexpected and based on how long things took last time.
Superiority of the nonprofit written word
If it’s not written down, it is not valued. If it’s written down in any way other than “Standard American English,” it is seen as incorrect or less intelligent. Superiors “correct,” edit and change documents to reflect a particular normalized language for that non-profit.
All forms of communication valued and taken seriously
Communication is treated simply as communication, stripped of “right” or “wrong,” recognizing that an individual’s use of language involves culture, power, lived experience, and geography. Editing focuses solely on communicating more clearly to a particular audience and is done with the permission of the writer. Appreciation for how in some communities, info relayed effectively through relationship networks and the spoken word, not just the written word.
Continual research and writing that leads nowhere. Creating multiple reports, groups, committees that are working in isolation and don’t build on each other’s work. Vision, values, and goals that no one can remember nor easily refer to in a meeting.
Clarity and alignment for action
Simple, memorizable and repeatable shared vision, values, and goals.
Transactional relationships
Detached “professional” communication to complete a transaction efficiently. Reaching out or acknowledging people only when you need something from them.
Transformational relationships
Building relationships internally and externally that are based on trust, understanding, and shared commitments. Even in the simplest ways, taking time to see, greet, and acknowledge each other to sustain caring connections, especially when there’s “no time” to do so. Space to appropriately be in one’s majesty, and share in each other’s cultural bounty.

Self-assessment — How privileged are you?

Put a check mark next to each of these statements that applies to you. More checks = more privilege.

  • A stranger has never asked to touch my hair or asked if it is real.
  • All my jobs have been accommodating of my religious practices.
  • I am a man.
  • I am always comfortable with showing affection to my partner in public.
  • I am heterosexual.
  • I am not nervous about airport security lines.
  • I am white.
  • I buy new clothes at least once a month.
  • I can afford a therapist.
  • I can afford medication if/when I need it.
  • I consider myself to be physically attractive.
  • I do not have any learning disabilities.
  • I do not have any physical disabilities.
  • I do not have any social disabilities.
  • I don’t have any student loans.
  • I don’t rely on public transportation.
  • I feel comfortable in the gender I was born as.
  • I feel privileged because of the identities I was born with.
  • I graduated from college.
  • I graduated high school.
  • I had a car in high school.
  • I have frequent flier miles.
  • I have had an unpaid internship.
  • I have had multiple unpaid internships.
  • I have never attempted suicide.
  • I have never been a victim of violence because of my race.
  • I have never been attacked for my religious beliefs.
  • I have never been called a derogatory slur for homosexuals.
  • I have never been called a racial slur.
  • I have never been called a terrorist.
  • I have never been catcalled.
  • I have never been cyber-bullied for any of my identities.
  • I have never been denied an opportunity because of my gender.
  • I have never been depressed.
  • I have never been discriminated against because of my skin color.
  • I have never been homeless.
  • I have never been mocked for my accent.
  • I have never been ostracized by my religion for my sexual orientation.
  • I have never been raped.
  • I have never been self-conscious about any of my identities.
  • I have never been sexually harassed or assaulted.
  • I have never been shamed concerning my religious beliefs.
  • I have never been shamed for my body type.
  • I have never been the only person of my race in a room.
  • I have never been threatened regarding my religious beliefs.
  • I have never been told I “sound white.”
  • I have never been told I am attractive “for my race.”
  • I have never been told I would “burn in hell” for my sexual orientation.
  • I have never been told I’m overweight or “too skinny.”
  • I have never been told that my sexuality is “just a phase.”
  • I have never been violently threatened because of my sexuality.
  • I have never considered suicide.
  • I have never done my taxes myself.
  • I have never felt overweight or underweight or “too skinny.”
  • I have never felt poor.
  • I have never felt unsafe because of my gender.
  • I have never gone to bed hungry.
  • I have never had an addiction.
  • I have never had an eating disorder.
  • I have never had to worry about making rent.
  • I have never heard this statement: “You have been randomly selected for secondary passport control.”
  • I have never lied about my ethnicity in self-defense.
  • I have never lied about my religion in self-defense.
  • I have never lied about my sexuality
  • I have never pretended to be “just friends” with my significant other.
  • I have never questioned any of my identities.
  • I have never taken medication for my mental health.
  • I have never tried to change my gender.
  • I have never tried to distance myself from any of my identities.
  • I have never tried to hide my sexuality.
  • I have never worked as a waiter, barista, bartender, or salesperson.
  • I have traveled internationally.
  • I make more money than my professional counterparts of a different gender.
  • I never doubted my parents’ acceptance of my sexuality.
  • I never had to “come out.”
  • I spent Spring Breaks abroad.
  • I still identify as the gender I was born in.
  • I studied abroad.
  • I travel internationally at least once a year.
  • I was not bullied as a child for any of my identities.
  • I went to a private school.
  • I went to an elite college.
  • I went to summer camp.
  • I work in a salaried job.
  • I’ve always had cable/internet.
  • I’ve never had a roommate.
  • I’ve never skipped a meal to save money.
  • I’ve used prescription drugs recreationally.
  • My family and I have never lived below the poverty line.
  • My parents are both alive.
  • My parents are heterosexual.
  • My parents are still married.
  • My parents paid (at least some of) my tuition.
  • My parents pay all of my bills.
  • My parents pay some of my bills.
  • Nobody has ever tried to “save” me for my religious beliefs.
  • There is a place of worship for my religion in my town.