Mapping Privilege, one Identity at a Time
Driving while Black is notably dangerous. There are names and hashtags that are constant reminders of this fact. Sandra Bland, Renisha McBride and now Terrence Crutcher, just to name a few.
And yet, I’m currently spending most of my time on the road. Currently, I’m writing you from Bismark, North Dakota, after a month of traveling through the Midwest, West, and South. Cincinnati, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Houston, Wichita, Denver, Salt Lake City and Vegas, all in the past few weeks. A lot of say things like, ‘Aren’t you worried?’ ‘It’s not safe on the road’. But as a Black woman, I don’t feel like I’m particularly safe, anywhere.
Like a lot of Americans, this hateful rhetoric of this election season and recent movements focused on addressing police brutality, racial inequality, and sexual assault, have led to some deep self-reflection, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how varying identities and privileges have not only shaped my life, but affect other individuals and whole communities.
Over the past year, I’ve used my various platforms as a comedian, writer, and diversity trainer to explore how privilege shows up in a lot of different areas. As a trained MSW and the former Regional Director of Education for the Anti-Defamation League, I’ve done a lot of training with schools, universities, workplaces and organizations on addressing bias. That work infused into my art as a comedian an writer, form creating EquiTable, a humorous app that made national headlines for ‘solving’ the wage gap, to investigating how the existence of systematic racism in the city of Baton Rouge contributed to the unfortunate shooting death of Alton Sterling for a major publication, to producing a comedy festival highlighting sex positive, queer art in San Francisco to further a culture of consent- I’ve been a part of how privilege is discussed on the national conversation and one thing is now clear to me:
We’re not talking to each other, we’re talking at each other.
Some of us are still trying to figure out, ‘what is this privilege thing anyway’? Some have decided it definitely doesn’t exist. Some just see one aspect of privilege- like race, or gender, and are blind to everything else. And thanks to digital segregation, we are consistently being exposed to things that confirm what we already believe. Despite numerous think-pieces, sketches and podcasts hoping to expand the conversation around privilege and identity- we all end up preaching to our own respective choirs.
I realized I wanted to change the focus to how we talk about privilege and identity, to how we listen to privilege and identity.
There’s no better way to do that than to get out and have real life conversations with people. To actually ask someone how they feel and then- just listen. What does privilege mean to you? What are the ways your identity has played a role in your life. How do you feel people see you? I started talking to folks in the Bay Area, a lot of folks, from all walks of life. And then I realized that wouldn’t be enough- where you are from and where you live have so much influence on how you would see these issues. So I left the Bay Area, and started driving- across the country to talk to folks about their understanding and experiences. And I’m still driving. And so began #MappingPrivilege
Out of genuine curiosity, and in the spirit of honesty and bridge building — I have conversations about identity and privilege from folks from all backgrounds and belief systems. I’m not neutral so I do share my thoughts and perspectives, but I understand that the story of a person’s lived experience should be not up for debate — and everyone can learn something by listening. As someone who does a lot of driving, you realize we all have a lot of blindspots.
Despite how polarizing and ugly things may seem to get, everyday I’m inspired and comforted by the people I meet and the things we share in common- the need to feel a sense of belonging. The desire to feel safe, and secure, and heard. It’s the one thing we can all agree on. Support this journey and this work