A University Lecture That Actually Changed Me

“Privilege is Invisible to Those Who Have It” [EDIT: After I published this piece, my professor reached out to me. She was happy the lecture had an impact and reminded me that the guest speaker was Jeff Perera from the White Ribbon Campaign and the quote was originally from a Michael Kimmel. Thanks Laurie ☺]

Let me start this piece by pointing out that I am a young, Caucasian female. It will make sense eventually.

Just over a year ago, I had a guest speaker come into one of my ‘Design in Media’ lectures at Ryerson University. I cannot for the life of me remember what his name was or what his relationship to Design in Media was, but I do remember one thing he said that has resonated with me ever since. He said,

“Privilege is invisible to those who have it.”

He was a person of colour and pointed out situations he noticed in his own career, which again I can’t remember. I just remember the moral: “Privilege is invisible to those who have it.” The reason why this idea stuck with me is because I realized I was one of those ignorant privileged people. Yes, I recognized how being Caucasian could be perceived as a positive and though I don’t see it that way, I understood how it is still an unfortunate reality.

At this time, I was simultaneously in a ‘Business of Creative Media’ course that had a guest speaker every week for the 13 weeks of classes. The speakers were people who had become successful in the media industry and were there to talk about the business aspects they needed to accompany their creative sides. After this Design in Media lecture with the man I can’t remember, I turned to one of my closest friends, a Caucasian male, and commented on my realization that we had only had one female guest speaker in all the weeks of our Business course. He said he didn’t even realize.

Here’s the kicker

My female friend of colour turns to me and says,

“But we haven’t had any black speakers.”

I legitimately did not notice this and that bothered me. A lot. Here was my own little microcosm of what that man was saying: “Privilege is invisible to those who have it.” My Caucasian male friend’s privilege of being a man in this world was invisible to him. Not maliciously of course, but it just didn’t phase him that we only had one female speaker; just as my ‘white privilege’ was invisible to me when I didn’t recognize that we didn’t even have one speaker of colour. This incident changed me. For good.

I didn’t want to be that person; someone ignorant of what I have. I wanted to be mindful of how the things I don’t think about — the things I was born with or into — are working in my favor. I wanted to be conscious of how some may never have those advantages and I wanted to understand why and what that means, so that’s what I’ve been and am still trying to figure out for the last year now. Spoiler: I haven’t yet.

We’re always told to “be grateful for what we have,” which we unquestionably should, but what I’m employing you to do is evaluate how what you have might automatically put you ahead of someone else. What is your privilege and how is it working for you? Maybe it’s something like your gender or skin tone as in my own experiences, but maybe it’s also your financial status, nationality or even your accent or what part of town you live in.

Once you figure out your privileges, don’t feel guilty, just take note of those who aren’t in the same situations and accommodate when necessary or possible. Maybe, like me, accommodating is something as small and tangible as suggesting restaurants you know all friends in your group can afford. It’s up to you to figure that out.

I’m not saying I’m perfect, and I’d be even more naive to think I don’t have parts of myself that need work, but I do/am trying to be cognizant of the privileges I’m fortunate enough to have. The tough part, which I’ve been working on since I heard that statement over a year ago, is to not be resentful towards people that do have significantly more privilege than I. Again, I’m not hard-off by any means — I realize that there are people worse-off, but sometimes it is irksome when you know you have to work X times harder than someone else for a similar goal. For me, that struggle usually comes with my family’s financial situation, but that’s a different blog. These others didn’t put themselves in those privileged positions and even if they did, no one should feel bad about the things they have or have worked for, they should just be aware of them. That’s the only real point I’m trying to make.

Bailey Parnell
Bailey Parnell is the Founder & CEO of SkillsCamp and was named one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women in 2016. Bailey is a 2x TED speaker with over 3.5 million views, an award-winning internationally-recognized entrepreneur, active humanitarian, and one with a talent for helping people develop the skills they need for success. Her work and expertise have been featured in Forbes, Good Morning America, CBC, FOX, and more.

For speaking, media, or a quick chat, reach out to Bailey today.

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