Tuesday, February 2, 2021

My privileges, and my systems mental block around race.

A social media friend brought up the topic of their work and how they weren't just lucky, but put a lot of work and schooling into their career.

This made me think about my own situation.

I feel privileged in my career -- beyond lucky.

I have one attribute which in some ways is a disadvantage, which is that I'm not neurotypical. I was lucky in that people (such as amazing teachers) directed me towards a profession where that personal feature was a benefit, even if there are regularly translation problems when communicating with more neurotypical coworkers.

I also entered into this profession in the early 1990's at a time when neurodiversity was not seen as a problem, while today things have become a bit more complex and neurodiversity gets people into conflicting situations with some interpretations of other diversity.

I am quite aware of my white cis-hetero-male privilege, where I don't have to be as exceptional as non-cis-hetero-male or non-white counterparts in order to get recognized.

I obviously did some of my own work, but I am fully aware that I never had to do as much work as other people who don't have the same demographic traits as I do in order to gain as much advantage as I have.

I was growing up at a time when my parents/grandparents were of a generation where there was a stronger work ethic, which I picked up from them. I was never told I was entitled to things simply by existing, but that I had to work for them (although I was never told about my privileges, but that is separate from this advantage).

I want to expand on my growing understanding of white privilege.

This is an idea that took me decades to come to better terms with, and I have been thinking about why.

When my wife and I first met, she was taking her Masters of Education at UofT (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education), and one of the classes she was taking was on social issues and feminism.  The discussion of affirmative action came up, and as a typical white person I thought of myself only as an individual, and thus was opposed to affirmative action. As I've written elsewhere, thinking of yourself only as an individual pulls you out of time and makes you oblivious to your connection to the past or future.

Over time I started to change my opinion from being a strong opponent of affirmative action, to being neutral, to now supporting in specific circumstances.

Part of the problem was that the majority of what I saw discussing privilege was focused on nuclear family economics. It discussed how if you had wealthy parents you were likely to inherit many advantages throughout your life, far beyond the western concept of inheritance (wealth being something you inherit from your parents, as opposed to understanding it as something you borrow from the future).

The problem with the economic focus is that many white people also grow up poor, and thus aren't able to see that they ever received any privilege.

This last year my wife and I have both been reading books on anti-racism. A Eureka moment came for both of us when she was reading the book Me and White Supremacy: How to Recognise Your Privilege, Combat Racism and Change the World by Layla F. Saad. I haven't had a chance to fully read it yet, but Rina read a passage that talked about how BIPOC who succeed have to be exceptional, while those of the dominant race do not. A white person will be seen to "fit in with the team" and "be a team player", be treated as an individual rather than a representative of their race, and many other things. This won't only impact your job and money, but many other social aspects of your life which are part of success.

While money may be what people wish to talk about, it is about far more than that. Even if you did not receive an inheritance, it does not mean you didn't receive advantages that other people with the identical financial circumstances did not receive.

This week's readings for NS 161 includes some chapters from the book Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, M├ętis, and Inuit Issues in Canada which continues some of the themes of "The Myth of Progress" and "The Myth of the Level Playing Field".

Affirmative action

With this context, watch the short film made for the African American Policy Forum.  While they also mention the concept of monetary inheritance, notice that this is not the only difference mentioned.  The demonstration of the different starting lines I've seen elsewhere doesn't convey the multiple different factors as well as this video does.

The primary reason I currently support some forms of affirmative action is that I recognize, especially on Turtle Island, that there has been an (imposed) government policy of affirmative action for whites for several hundred years. With this promotion of white/European worldviews and values came the patriarchy and other problems where affirmative action is being used.

I have yet to see any advocate for non-white affirmative action suggest anything as aggressive as the white affirmative action: no removal of the right to vote, no residential schools, no stealing of land (both according to European law and laws of nations indigenous to Turtle Island), no misappropriation/theft of "trust" funds, no kidnapping and forcing people into forced labour/slavery, no genocide, etc.

I believe it is possible that correcting this white affirmative action will take less than the hundreds of years of unjust enrichment that white affirmative action has granted. This will depend on how long white supremacy is allowed to continue within the largest foreign-created governments (USA and Canada) that continue their existing policies of white supremacy and white affirmative action.


I remain skeptical of "equality of outcome" measurements, as that presumes that providing equal outcomes within the current (white) system of values will bring us away from systemic racism. I strongly believe in equality of opportunity, recognizing that not all peoples are driven by the same goals and thus with true equality of opportunity we will see less white-centered outcomes or criteria for success.




Systems mental block

I want to highlight one of my major failings, in the hope that it can help others avoid it -- possibly much earlier in their life.

In an earlier article I discuss how I analyze public policy using my experience as a systems administrator and software author.

In the 1990's I was a big promoter of consumer activism, believing that if we only made better choices as individual consumers we could change the world. This lasted for about a decade until I came to the conclusion that while devoted activists can avoid specific problems, that there were systems in place (taxation, government subsidies, cost externalizations, social forces, media, laws and other policies) that made it difficult if not impossible for most people to make similar choices.  I never got a drivers license or owned a car, but that alone has had no impact on anything else other than me and some members of my immediate circle.

I moved to focusing on systems for the policies I was involved in. My being neurodiverse probably helped, partly as I don't see or feel the same social pressures to conform as other people might. I currently strongly believe that only systemic change can impact over the longer term, as changing individual peoples minds without changing the system will allow the system to cause a social "reset" as people simplify their lives by conforming to the system.

Even with this systems focus in my work and political life, I did not see the systems aspects of racism.

The article where I discuss how I analyze policy includes a picture of Justin Trudeau, my wife and I. My wife's parents were born in the province of West Bengal in India, and I likely see brown skinned people as often (if not more) as I see white people in my personal life.


Even with this very personal family and community aspect of my life, I did not see the systems aspects of racism.

I had all the opportunities for me to understand handed to me, and yet it took me until this last year to start learning.

My hope is that by publishing my own failure that it might help other people to be aware of the possibility, and to seek to avoid it themselves.

I'm willing to discuss more if anyone wishes to reply to this blog, or open dialog on social media.  Or post their own thoughts on their own blog, and let me know.

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