About Privilege

‘The black mother perceives destruction at every door, ruination at each window, and even she herself is not beyond her own suspicion… beyond her door, all authority is in the hands of people who do not look or think or act like her or her children. Teachers, doctors, sales clerks, librarians, policemen, welfare workers are white and exert control over her family’s moods, conditions and personality; yet within the home, she must display a right to rule which at any moment, by a knock at the door, or a ring of the telephone can be exposed as false.’ – Maya Angelou, The Heart of a Woman

I sat upright in bed when I finished reading that passage the other night and I’ve been able to think of little else since. Even though I myself am not a black mother, this spoke so clearly to me about privilege, a subject that is so emotionally-charged that productive conversations rarely happen around it without someone walking away wounded.

In recent years, like so many others, I’ve been grappling with the notion of privilege. Millions of us have since watched in horror as people in positions of power have unashamedly flaunted their privilege, leaving the rest of us feeling demoralized, deflated, crushed. For many brave people, this has spurred them on to action, opening up discussions about what privilege is, what it looks like, where it is, what it means. But discussions invariably become tense with people becoming highly defensive and dismissive as a result.

In thinking about it, I’ve been forced to examine and check my own privilege, to confront it, to understand what it is (something I’m still learning), to unpack how it’s made my life better and possibly made worse the lives of others, how I carry that privilege forward in my own life and through my children. What I’ve been unable to do successfully is find neutral vocabulary to talk about it. Even though power is inherent in privilege, if we can talk about it without judgement and in ways that are relatable, people can honestly start to reflect on their own privilege and then harness that for the good of others (and themselves).

There are some people who actively seek privilege to the detriment of others. But the vast majority of people don’t even know they possess privilege because, like everyone else, they’re just trying to make it through a day. But every time you look away from someone struggling or you watch quietly (or not at all) while a person fights to be heard, seen, accepted, paid a fair wage, you are using your privilege. Your wealth, gender, race, religion, social standing, etc affords you the privilege of not having to get involved. We have all done it and while that doesn’t make us terrible people, it does make us complicit in the current struggles about privilege and power that are taking place around the world. So how do we move forward from that heavy knowledge?

That passage from Maya Angelou’s book is the framework we need to think about privilege in a relatable way. That passage sums it up so perfectly it’s almost too raw to touch. When thinking about privilege, ask yourself: beyond my home, the safety of these walls, the security of my dwelling, am I free to be who I really am without interference from others? So as a woman, am I able to look and dress and behave as I want? Or am I labelled bossy for spelling out what I need, pushy because I don’t let you tell me how it is, or one of those minority women because I actually talk about race and prejudice and don’t just quietly tolerate it?

As a human, are you able to freely walk through neighborhoods without someone calling Neighborhood Watch, locking their doors when they see you, changing their body language? Are you able to drive a car without being pulled over for no reason or travel without security consistently pulling you aside for additional screening?

As a parent, do you ever have to worry that your children will be treated differently outside of your home because of how they look? What religious holidays they do or don’t celebrate? What things they can or cannot afford to do that their peers are doing?

Dr. Angelou went on to say about black mothers ‘she must tell her children the truth about…power without suggesting that it cannot be challenged.’

Do you ever have to have conversations like that with your children, where you have to balance the truth of the hurdles they will face through being born who they are with the belief that they still have the power (although maybe not the resources or broad support) to change it? For most things, I do not have to have these conversations with my children. That is their and my privilege. But when it comes to other issues, I do and it haunts me that any person should have to feel this way.

But in order for me, as human being, to productively contribute to this conversation, I need to be honest about the multiple ways in which I am in a position of privilege before I can use that to make the world better for others and myself. I’m not saying people have to justify the privileged positions they find themselves in now. For many of us, we didn’t know what social status, race, gender, we were growing up into. But we know now. And that matters. What we do in this moment now and from this moment forward matters because we know systems are being used against others and that privilege is real and has the power to propel you forward or hold you down until you choke under its weight.

So use Dr. Angelou’s words a benchmark for examining and understanding privilege and ask yourself: beyond the safety of your home, are you able to be who you really are? Then use the answer to make your life and the lives of others better. And to all the brave people doing this already, thank you; we need you.

What do I tell my kids about a Trump presidency

Trump’s win has devastated pretty much everyone I know on both sides of the political spectrum. From my children who wanted their ‘teammate’ Hillary to win, to friends, colleagues, and neighbours. This ‘victory’ doesn’t sit right with us. And it’s not because our person didn’t win. We’ve all dealt with being on the losing team before. This defeat is different. We’re talking about someone who built his campaign on threats, insults, lies, and fear. His campaign was grounded in hatred, bigotry, misogyny, ignorance, and intolerance. All the things we tell ourselves and our children they cannot and should not espouse… and yet he is now set to become leader of the free world. It’s just too much to take in (To anyone who’s trying to understand what that feeling of unease, degradation, and hurt is it’s how the rest of us feel when we’re attacked because of our race or religion. You know it’s completely wrong and false but it still feels shameful and painful.).

So what do we do now? What comes next? What do we tell our kids? First, hug your loved ones. I held my children a little closer this morning and checked in with my friends and family. I looked around at how my community was reeling from this latest setback and I grieved, and continue to grieve, with them. But soon we need to come out of this fog because, like it or not, we must learn to live in a world where Trump is going to be president.

I am tired of trying to explain to anyone why this is a terrifying moment. I am tired of explaining why this is not business as usual where we just press on. I am tired of trying to make others understand how unsettling this is. If you don’t understand now, in this moment, you won’t understand anytime soon.

So in my mind the absolute best thing to do today, tomorrow, and in anticipation of 2020 is to recommit to love and kindness. Practice it each and every day. Ingrain love and kindness in all you do, at home, with friends, with strangers, at work. Each and every day. If you have kids, teach them love and kindness in word and deed. Muslim, black, Latina, female, LGBTQ, immigrant, poor, middle class, birth control user, none of the aforementioned, whatever. Love and kindness.

Love is not an easy concept to embrace. Love requires us to set aside our prejudices (many of which have been held over lifetimes and generations) and face our fears of others without a tangible safety net. And it can be exhausting. For the most part, we are conditioned to mistrust and judge those we see as different to ourselves. But engaging in that behaviour has led us to this moment now. It has led us to a moment where Trump has been voted in as president on a platform of hatred. Love and kindness are not partisan issues; they are human ones.

So today, along with your children, friends, family members, and communities, let’s make a bold political statement: kindness and love. I am saddened that I live in a world where kindness is a political statement, but fine. I’ll take this as an opportunity to rededicate myself to this mission. I will teach it to my children through my actions, my words, and how I live my life. I will prove to them, and Trump, that his hatefulness will not darken the light of love. His assaults will not make me lash out at others, even if they’re different to me. His ignorance will not stop me from teaching my own children and learning new things with them. Kindness and love.

I will remember this bold political statement as I cry and think about how my boys may be treated as second class citizens simply because they’re Muslim.

I will remember love and kindness as I think about the immigrant families that are afraid they will be deported, separated, or worse.

I will remember this as I think of same-sex couples just wanting to live their lives like everyone else.

I will remember this as I think of the millions and millions of women who just want to be able to access life-saving health services and make decisions for their own bodies.

I will remember this as I think about how Black Lives Matter was labeled ‘trouble’.

I will remember this as I think of every single woman who is essentially being told that a man can treat her as an object to be grabbed, touched, and degraded at a man’s will.

It’s bewildering to think of what a Trump presidency may look like and depressing and downright terrifying to relive the hateful rhetoric that led to his successful election as president. But I believe love and kindness are our first defense against this ever happening again. I believe love and kindness can carry us through these first few overwhelming and crushing days, weeks, and months as we begin to process what happens next.

At this point, I feel it’s impossible to prepare against his policies because no one really knows what those are (Trump included…). So while we wait for this to shake out, I will continue to tell my children that bullying, intimidation, hatred, ignorance, and fear will not win. Trump and his supporters may attack my religion, my ethnic background, my gender, and many of the people I love, but they will not win.

Love and kindness 2020.

p.s. watch us come back stronger.

About Why I’m Raising My Sons to Think Like Women

As I was cleaning up my sons’ toys last night and muttering to myself about the entitlement of my boys, a thought suddenly struck me: ‘if I don’t do this, then who will’? As in, I have implored every member of this household to tidy up after themselves and I still f**king get stuck doing it because if I don’t do it, clearly no one else will.  That’s how I spent International Women’s Day, essentially doing what women do: all the stuff, big and small, that needs to get done because if we don’t do it, who will?

Now make no mistake; I’m one of the lucky ones.  My husband is one of the good ones.  He cooks some weekends, cleans up after dinner, is on toddler duty as soon as steps through the door in the evening and his shift doesn’t end until about 6 the next morning.  I know I’m lucky.  But still, I find myself doing things and thinking ahead in ways my (useful) husband never would.  I often ask myself ‘why’ because I am raising boys and I want them to be good partners to people someday and contribute to the world.  What I’ve realized about the many wonderful men in my life is that most of them are good at the big things.  So they’re good at excelling at their jobs or doing well in academia or being assertive when needed.  But when it comes to the details of life like managing the family calendar, dressing the kids so they don’t look shipwrecked, or running a household they are, as my cousin so aptly put it ‘Mr. 70%’.

As women, we all know how much we do and how much is expected of us.  We’ve obviously known all along, whether it was watching our mothers, aunts, sisters, etc or doing it our damn selves.  But now that it’s hip to talk about women and the unique ways in which we ‘add’ to work environments and ‘contribute’ to society, I’ve been trying to understand what it is about women (and mothers especially) that makes them so impactful.  It’s all the rage to talk about women-owned businesses being more successful than standard ones and the need for flexible working precisely because women’s contributions mean so much to the labour force that we can no longer afford to exclude them.  But these articles, research studies, and statistics don’t answer the ‘why’ of this female contribution.  Why are female employees so productive and why do female entrepreneurs get it right more often?

Quite simply because women learn from a young age that if they don’t make it happen for themselves, pretty much no one else will.  Your parents will try.  Your teachers might encourage you.  Your (female) colleagues may go to bat for you.  Ultimately, though, you’re working in a system that expects you to be a loving and supportive (read submissive) wife or partner, a perfect mum, a flawless homemaker, and a model employee who isn’t too threatening to the higher-ups.

Now of course this isn’t true for everyone.  There are plenty of entitled women and a growing number of men who truly want to see their wives, partners, sisters, female colleagues, etc excel at whatever they choose to do.  And then of course there’s race and social class that transcend gender and quash peoples’ ambitious in horrible ways.  But we know being born a woman can put you at a disadvantage if you don’t find a way to fight the system, whether you’re born in Europe or Asia (although the stakes may be significantly different).

So why can mothers do so much and why are females so successful in the workplace when they are given the opportunity to stay instead of being forced into the home by a desire to have children?  Because as women we approach everything we do with an ‘if I don’t do this, then who will’ attitude.  If I don’t make dinner for this family, then who else will?  If I don’t complete this project thoroughly, then who will?  If I don’t fix the problems in the workplace that I experienced at all my previous jobs, then who will?  If I don’t make a stand for other mothers, working mothers, older mothers, etc, then who will?  We know the answers to these questions are often ‘no one’ and that is what drives us to success when we are given the chance or when we are able to carve that chance out for ourselves.

I have the good fortune of working for a women-owned business and what I’ve noticed is that the female leaders not only slay it in the creativity and idea department, they actually follow all the way through with their projects.  When needed they delegate but often, they will birth and raise an entire project from start to finish without needing to drag an unnecessary number of employees into the situation.  It’s a skill because not only is it highly efficient, it’s inspiring to watch people so committed to an idea that they work doggedly to turn it into something real and beneficial, whether that’s made up of tiny components or outward facing tasks.  One of my siblings also runs a company with two other women and together these three women are completely shaking up their industry from attracting new business to fundamentally changing working practices for parents and employees who want a life outside of work.  I believe it’s because all these women, intentionally or otherwise, approach their lives from an ‘if I don’t disrupt this industry, then who will’ attitude.

So my new mantra to my children is ‘if you don’t do this, then who will?’ I hope this will serve the dual purpose of teaching my sons to think like women so that they’re not just good at the big things, but at all the things that make a home-life and work-life so rich. (And also so that they can walk from one end of the living room to the other without tripping over 18 different toys.) But then also instill in them that fighting instinct that so many women have because they know nothing will be handed to them.  When you’re forced to answer the question ‘if you don’t do this, then who will’, you’re forced to think about who picks up the slack when you fall short.  I want my boys to be the answer to that question, just like so many women before them.