Dreaming Big: Reflections on Moving Beyond the Gap

Christina ChandlerBy Christina Chandler, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the KC STEM Alliance

I often call myself “my ancestor’s wildest dreams.” I know that sounds a bit high-minded, but I reflect on my grandmother: My grandmother was born around 1910. I say “around” because we could never locate a birth certificate for her.

Based on my research through census data, she was the daughter of sharecroppers and still looked to be listed as property on the census data. Her grandmother was listed as property on an earlier census I could locate. She had about a 6th-grade education; she could write, but it wasn’t always legible. She cleaned houses for a living, didn’t have a driver’s license but knew this city like the back of her hand!

She ensured my mother got the best education she and my grandfather could afford. My mother went to a vocational school, learned the BASIC programming language, and got a job at Mobil Oil right out of high school. In turn, my mother ensured her children got the best education she and my father could afford. She made sure all three of her kids went to at least community college and supported us as we worked to further our education. My grandmother and my mother were our “unearned privilege.”

Unearned privileges are the privileges we are born with. For some people, that privilege could be being tall, identifying as heterosexual, or being born into a wealthy family. Similarly, there is a privilege to being white or male. It can be challenging to admit that gender, race, or sexual orientation comes with unearned privileges, but it does. Many studies have shown that when using the same resume but changing the name to “white” or “black” sounding names, the applicant with more “white” sounding names receives more interviews. We all have some unearned privilege. People often have a hard time discussing and recognizing that they have the privilege. However, we can avoid and remove barriers and obstacles when we recognize our privilege.

I have a co-worker who refused to be in a picture with me and a group of people after an event I led. Her reason? “Because I am a tall, white woman, people will assume that I was in charge, and I don’t want to detract from your leadership of this event.” This individual has figured out how to manage her privilege to uplift a person who does not have the same unearned privilege.

How can you use your privilege to assist and contribute to the success of someone? How can you become someone’s “unearned” privilege? When we recognize our privilege and use it to elevate a group of people who have historically been less privileged, we can help remove barriers and level the playing field. Perhaps you can help someone become their ancestor’s wildest dreams!

When we identify where our privilege intersects with somebody else's oppression, we'll find our opportunities to make real change. Ijeoma Oluo

Ijeoma Oluo is a writer, speaker and internet yeller. She is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller “So You Want to Talk About Race.”