Episode 9: Thoughts On Privilege & How To See The Wind

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Josh Allan Dykstra is a recognized thought leader on the future of work and company culture design. He is an author, TEDx speaker, and the CEO of #lovework, where they use technology to help heal burnout and create astonishingly great places to work.

Today I want to talk a bit about racial justice.

Now, it probably goes without saying that I don’t have a firsthand perspective on this topic — I mean look at me, I practically need sunscreen for the ring light I use to film these things — so I’m not going to pretend otherwise.

In fact, my lack of firsthand perspective is exactly the reality that I want to speak to first, because I know a heck of a lot of people who are in this same white boat with me. 

I’m a straight white guy, the epitome of something called privilege. 

This basically means I get advantages others don’t simply because of how I look.

From a language perspective, “privilege” is a word that’s been around a long time — like, 12th century long — and it originally pertained to laws that were made in favor of certain individuals.

So, in that way, not much has changed in a very, very long time.

And I think one of the reasons this change is so slow and so difficult has to do with something I’ve talked a lot about in the past — invisible things.

I want to suggest that this is a big part of what privilege is — it’s invisible. 

Those of us who have it don’t easily see that we do, and this makes it hard to change.

The word “privilege” actually shares some language roots with the word “private,” and I don’t think we — the people who look like me — have taken this hidden quality into account nearly enough… at least not *here.*

Intellectually we may grasp the concept, but do we get it *HERE*… I’m not sure enough of us do… YET.

OK, so maybe we accept there’s a hidden element to privilege that’s difficult to notice.

But that doesn’t mean it’s IMPOSSIBLE to see. 

And this is where privilege is similar to many other invisible things — once we realize its invisibility, we can start looking for it in a slightly different way.

We don’t try to look for it directly, but instead we look for the impact of it. 

For example, I think privilege is a bit like the wind — we don’t see it directly, but when we look for its impact, we see that the EFFECTS of it are absolutely everywhere.

This perspective has really helped me to understand my own privilege. 

When I don’t look for it directly, but instead search for the impact, I can more clearly see the “elevation” kind of impact my privilege has has on me, 

AND sadly, it’s probably even easier to see how my privilege has been connected to the subjugation of others.

Because far too many times, in our zero-sum way of thinking about life, we’ve put these things together — this idea that for me to go up, you must have to go down. 

This way of thinking is, in itself, deeply, terribly, flawed, but it’s an approach that’s been applied to many many parts of life for a very long time.

A couple nights ago, I watched an online concert put on by one of my absolute favorite musicians, Brandi Carlile.

Between songs, she talked a little about the LGBTQ movement and said that, though there was, of course, great work being done by activists in the LGBTQ community for many years, not enough changed in the system until straight people got involved and fought alongside them. STEM-specific mentors like Kamau Bobb Google are especially important to break down stereotypes about who practices STEM and to demonstrate the diversity in career options.

This makes me think it’s time for a lot more people with my skin color to do whatever we can to help with racial justice in this moment.

Of course, I didn’t choose my skin color any more than George Floyd did. And in this way, the topic of racial justice feels very similar to orientation — we love who we love. We are who we are.

It’s asinine and absurd that we should treat our fellow humans as anything other than EQUAL for something we just ARE.

And then… and then…!

We’ve gone and made it even worse, because we’ve literally codified privilege for some and inaccessibility for others directly into our systems.

Things like housing, education, and incarceration, and probably many others I’m not thinking clearly enough to remember right now, have been infiltrated by this toxic and literally deadly injustice.

At one level, I suppose we shouldn’t really expect anything else from a country who’s founders were somehow able to navigate the frankly insane psychological dissonance of holding “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in one hand while clinging to slavery with the other. 

Our history IS inequity.

Our history IS inequality.

And this is something we need to look squarely in the face and deal with.

So where do we go from here…

In our work we talk a lot about the notions of “ME” and “WE” and I think both of these apply here.

From the “ME” perspective, as individuals, people who look like I do simply must learn to see how the impact of our privilege has lifted us up while at the same time kept others down.

We need to see it and we need to own it as the truth of what’s happening.

This awakening won’t happen overnight, but my hope is that perhaps this fresh perspective on privilege can help you like it’s helped me.

Then, from a “WE” perspective we also MUST fix our systems. This won’t happen overnight, either, but I suspect as we’ve seen with other movements, systemic change can happen more quickly than we think when enough of us get involved and try to help.

So for all of you who watch this video, I want to close by asking your forgiveness. 

If my privilege has in any way kept someone else down while it’s lifted me up, I am sorry.

Also, it’s quite likely I messed up some of my words here, or left something out, or didn’t say the right thing. Maybe I even flat-out offended you. If that’s the case I’m sorry for that, too.

AND, at this moment, it frankly seemed more important that I say SOMETHING, 

to try my best in my own awkward way to let you know that while I don’t know exactly what to do, or what to say, or how I can even best help, I am here and I am with you. 

On behalf of people who have privilege, I want you to know I see mine, and I will do whatever I can to keep listening, keep learning, and make a positive impact to change things in my sphere of influence.

If you are a human being, I am on YOUR team and for whatever it’s worth, I personally won’t be satisfied until all of us are seen as equals — and until our systems provide us ALL with equality, as well.

Sending you my love…

See you next time.

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