On MLK Day and every day— you can lend your privilege
I was first introduced to the idea of Lending Privilege by Anjuan Simmons at Github Universe 2016. Anjuan is a technical program manager and speaker who had a very busy 2016: OSCON, Github Universe, DevOpsDays, SpringOne Platform, CodeConf. His talk is in high demand and it is really, really good.
Not only is Anjuan an engaging, charismatic speaker, his message is clear and actionable: there are many different types of privilege and some people have more than others. A lack of a certain privilege in a certain situation makes success much harder, but you can lend the privilege you have to someone else who needs it. You can lend credibility, access, and expertise to help those who have talent and ambition but lack certain advantages, advantages that could open doors that are otherwise closed.
Lending privilege doesn’t just help those without privilege, it helps everybody. Anjuan, starting at 14:02:
“You can help remove these disadvantages by lending your privilege. By spreading the benefits you gain from your portfolio of privilege, you increase the value of everyone.”
Not everyone shares the opinion that privilege is one of the hidden forces holding back tech from becoming more inclusive. I do. But if you don’t, I still encourage you to watch the talk. There’s nothing wishy-washy or touchy-feely about it. Anjuan is an engineer and systems-oriented thinker, you’ll find his points to be highly rational and well-reasoned. Even if you don’t agree with all of them, I think you’ll find something valuable to take away.
Lastly a quote, not from Anjuan this time:
“Lamentably, it is a historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.”
― Martin Luther King Jr., Letter From Birmingham Jail
It’s been more than 50 years since that letter was written and the historical fact remains just as true today. The voluntary diffusion of privilege is not going to “just happen”. It’s going to take constant, hard work by individuals and groups alike. That’s something to reflect on this MLK day, maybe while you watch the talk.