Talking about privilege

By Shaina Shealy, Zainab Khan, and Lena Dakessian Halteh

What does privilege mean?

As multimedia journalists from differing socioeconomic backgrounds, privilege is a concept that informs our work but is rarely talked about. So, 
we decided to ask 22 strangers about their personal experiences regarding gender, race, and wealth, and filmed their responses.

We wondered how differing identities inform how people experience, define and understand the concept of privilege.

Although many news stories are informed by privilege, the concept itself is often not included, or explained, in public discourse.

As we watched the footage to organize the conversations into thematic segments of “privilege,” we found that its multiple faces overlap and intersect. But by hearing their stories, we could understand how overlapping identities play out.

Watch the full interviews below.

On Privilege & Gender

Have you ever altered your behavior, style of dress or plans out of fear for your physical safety?
Have you been a victim of physical violence based on your gender?

On Privilege & Race

Have you ever been the victim of physical or verbal abuse based on your ethnic identity?
Growing up, did you feel proud about how people who looked like you were portrayed in the media?

On Privilege & Education

Was it assumed from a young age that you would go to college?
Were you told by your parents that you were smart, beautiful and capable of achieving your dreams?

Our hope was not to define privilege, but to shed light on the many ways privilege — or a lack of it— plays out in the lives of different people.

Zoe, for example, is a genderqueer, transwoman raised in Illinois. She said her idea of privilege is informed by her life experience as different people.

“I have experienced the world as a young, healthy man. I experienced the world as a young, healthy woman,” Zoe said.

“I have seen myself gain and lose privilege. I lost my keys to the world when my body changed, when my age changed and when my physical ability changed. I didn’t realize that this thing called privilege existed so strongly, and I would lose it, until it was gone.”
Other participants found strength and healing in telling their stories. Camilla, a fashion designer who grew up in Alaska, told a story about surviving rape by a relative. 
“I think [sexual assault] is something that more women should talk about,” Camilla said. “Only by speaking about it, can we stop it.”
The strangers participated in the project as volunteers — they were not told the questions beforehand. We sat them face to face in front of cameras and filmed them asking each other personal questions. They reacted to one another’s stories with surprise, empathy and a desire to understand.

Some conversations lasted hours.

As we saw the polarization of the American public unfold last month in the form of the U.S. presidential election, we realized that having conversations like these can be a productive method of engaging with people who experience the world differently. It is our hope that the participants’ courage to have intimate and personal conversations in front of a camera can inspire people from around the world to face each other in dialogue.

We believe that talking about injustice and telling our own stories can bring us closer together.

Check out the privilege project in its entirety at this link.