How to Work with Your Own Privilege

by | Jun 2, 2020 | Power Dynamics

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“At its best, activism is a form of healing. It is about what we do and how we show up in the world. It is about learning and expression of regard, compassion and love.” –Resmaa Menaken.

I have been watching events unfold over the last week with angst, outrage, grief, sadness, confusion, and having intense conversations with multiple people. Mostly, I’ve been more deeply examining how systems of fear and oppression still operate widely in our culture, and also within me, despite my best intentions.

I’m writing today, because I have been inspired by the work that Dr. Claudia Consolati offers in her Women Speak Up Project, and have been taking to heart a wide variety of voices including those by Rachel Rodgers, Resmaa Menaken, Tayo Rockson, and Tererai Trent, to name only a few. Today’s writing represents my imperfect synthesis of many voices, and I highly encourage you to follow the various links provided in this blog to the richness of conversation that is already happening in our cultures.

I want to express where I stand and where my online consulting and coaching business and therapy practice stands regarding racial injustice and social inequity. I do not want to perpetuate being safe but silent, business as usual, nor settle for being a “nice, kind, appropriate, and nonviolent” white woman who inadvertently contributes to the problem.

First, to all our Black sisters and brothers, and indeed to all Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) who are harmed by current systems of domination:

I am outraged and heartbroken at the the generational, historical trauma you have endured and continue to endure today.

I will stay present to your suffering, trauma, despair and outrage. I see it, I hear it, I care about it. I don’t pretend our pain is “equal” or the same. I mourn with you.

I am so sorry for the ways that injustice is perpetuated in the world at large, and also for the ways in which I have hidden behind my own white privilege to stay safe.

Among many other things…

  • I recognize and own the ways in which I’ve wanted “credit” (Rachel Rodgers calls them “cookies”) for my sympathetic values and the ways in which I’ve asked you to do the emotional labor of explaining and educating me about your experiences.

  • I recognize and own the ways in which I’ve stayed silent at times that I could have spoken up so that I could avoid awkwardness.

  • I recognize and own the ways that I get uncomfortable with the “violence” of a protest, while glossing over the daily violence of systems of privilege that do not listen, do not care, and continue to dehumanize and disenfranchise you.

I will be more visible and clear about where I stand on these issues and take more risks, especially when I am uncomfortable and could choose safety instead of speaking up.

To our white sisters and brothers:

Please join me in doing our work.

In cultures that have evolved out of systems of white supremacy, white voices are deemed more credible and legitimate than others. White experience is seen as the normative experience against which everything else is judged. Non-white bodies are seen as more disposable than others.

Those of us who live in a white body benefit from this structure of power regardless of our inner values and personal perspectives. We have choices that others in our culture do not have. We live in a state of privilege. (If you want this idea cleared up more, I suggest the writings of Peggy McIntosch and Layla Saad.) Having privilege is not about whether we personally invite or seek out favor or inequity. In large part, privilege comes from what others grant you based on their own biases and prejudices.

This privilege allows us to inhabit a world that is safer for white bodies than for others. A world that allows us to judge the chaos of some riots, judge the badness of the looting, claim that violence is “not the way.”

Of course violence is not the way.

However, when we are indignant about the violence of a protest but not about the violence of systemic oppression, we miss the point completely. People don’t start the conversation with violence, they resort to it in desperation after decades and decades of “speaking nicely” and being ignored, dismissed, minimized, and gaslit by an intractable system of privilege and power that harms them on a daily basis.

Bringing up principles of “nonviolence and kindness” to those who are being directly harmed and hurt is a form of blaming the victim and fails to protect people from harm.

Dear fellow white people, we need to be willing to do our own work.

For example, a few years ago, when the Black Lives Matter signs began popping on multiple lawns around the Twin Cities, I remember feeling uncomfortable with them. Like many other well-meaning white people, I found myself thinking, “But, actually all lives matter…” My knee-jerk reaction as a person with privilege missed the point.

The Black Lives Matter movement is meant to build up African American voices that are systematically silenced. It’s about raising up the voices of the oppressed, the marginalized.

In case you also have had similar thoughts as I initially did, watch this and watch this. In under two minutes, you will understand the movement in a whole new way.

If we care about a world that works for all people, then we can start by acknowledging the structural inequities that prevent the world from working for all people. We can begin to acknowledge that our country’s economic, housing, judicial, educational, penal, electoral, and social systems – to name just a few – are skewed in favor of whiteness. And then we can choose to do something about it.

Racism is a form of collective trauma, and trauma can be healed. We need a great willingness to get vulnerable, listen with our hearts, to engage in messy conversations and to make amends when necessary in order to restore our relationships and work together towards a more equitable, just, safer and connected culture.

Here is a list of anti-racist work that we can do:

  1. When people are outraged and hurt, join them, sit next to them, be with them. Lean in, don’t turn away. We don’t have to have answers, solutions, or strategies. We need to be allies. Listen deeply with an open heart. Learn, learn, learn. Empathize, empathize, empathize. Join, join, join.

  2. Let’s develop the capacity, skill, and courage to use our power and privilege in protective ways so that we can actively intervene whenever we see another person being harmed. Learn to sit with your rage so that you can tolerate the rage of people who are being oppressed and are irritated by your part in that. Learn to sit with your grief so that you can empathize with people who are heartbroken and wounded by the constant trauma of oppression and discrimination. Learn to claim your empowerment so that you can make space for boundary-setting, limit-setting, and truth-telling whenever it is needed to protect people from harm.

  3. We need to do our own healing work so that we can act out of the most settled, empowered, and resourced parts of ourselves – not the most fearful, tribal, and reactive parts. Let’s heal ourselves to the point where we understand the universal truth that we are all one, whatever is done to one of us is done to all of us.

  4. We need to become aware of our own racial biases and begin to work with and treat our tendencies – without shaming, blaming, judging, or hating ourselves in the process. Let’s get to know our racist parts and heal them so they don’t hijack us and drive our behaviors unconsciously. Project Implicit is a great place to start.

  5. Let’s be humble and educate ourselves. Don’t ask for free emotional labor from BIPOC. Use the internet and read loads of books to “help you understand.” Do your own research. Anti-Racism for Beginner’s is a great place to start.

  6. Learn how historical, inter-generational, and personal trauma plays into our own and others’ lives so that we can begin healing our collective body. (Start with My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menaken)

  7. Let’s be more willing to leave our comfort zones. No-one wants to take anything away from us: we are simply being invited to share the goodness we already have access to. Let’s use our white privilege to speak up against systems, policies and practices that maintain the status quo. As white people, we are the ones who need to work on transforming and educating other white people.

  8. Let’s take responsibility for our triggers and reactivity, by discharging the global shock that lives in our bodies. When we feel strong sensations in our bodies – jolts, twitching, buzzing, tingling, trembling and sudden crying – remember that this is a normal part of healing. We are discharging stored pain, energy and trauma. Let’s stay present to it – not numb out from it, not stop it from moving. Instead, let’s learn how to settle into our bodies, our fears, and feel our feelings to completion without analyzing them.

  9. Let’s support BIPOC by buying goods from them, hiring them, making donations, and offering emotional support when requested and welcomed. Stay on guard for any parts of ourselves that come from an attitude of superiority or rescue. Dr Claudia Consolati invites us to be aware of the part of ourselves that wants to be a “white savior.”

  10. Let’s separate our whiteness from our supremacy, as Resmaa Menakem suggests we learn how to do. We can dismantle the power imbalance without losing our sense of identity. Let’s start conversations with one another about what a new culture of whiteness without supremacy may look like and feel like. Let’s help each other create that.

  11. Let’s drop the enemy images of “them” or “the other.” In many places, police officers joined in the protesting.

  12. You can always vote for what you want more of in the world by how you spend your money. Here are a few Minnesota-specific options:

  • Minnesota Freedom Fund: Community based non-profit that pays criminal bail and immigration bonds for individuals who have been arrested while protesting police brutality.

  • Black Visions Collective: A black, trans, queer-led organization that is committed to dismantling systems of oppression and violence and shifting the public narrative to create transformative, long-term change.

  • Campaign Zero: An online platform that utilizes research-based policy solutions to end police brutality in America.

  • Unicorn Riot: Nonprofit organization dedicated to exposing root causes of dynamic social and environmental issues.

  • George Floyd Memorial Fund: Support for Mr. Floyd’s family.

This work is messy, uncomfortable, charged, and transformative. Past generations fought to end slavery; our generation now needs to fight to end racism. Instead of shying away from the healing that needs to happen, let’s join one another in turning our wounds into wisdom and to truly creating a world that works for all of us.

Here’s some super important and highly recommended further reading:

As always, I’d love to hear from you. If you have an idea, a strategy or a resource you’d like to add, please continue this list by letting us all know the comments below.


  1. kat corrigan

    Thank you so much for this! Yvette, your words is wisdom and truth are truly helping to guide me in this morass of pain this morning. I’ll be reading and sharing-
    Peace to you!

  2. Cathy P.

    Thank you, Yvette. Reading this helps put a framework around my thoughts and feelings and helps me sort out how I want to move forward today and then inching forward again tomorrow. "Do something" is my mantra right now. Sitting in the feelings and recognizing needs is my current "something"!! Healing shame for sitting in the comfort of my white privilege, especially when it comes to issues of equity and racial injustice are on the first order of business. I want to "show up" differently and from a place of empowerment. Keep writing. Your wisdom and insights are a beacon of light, food for thought, and helpful in guiding conversations, and action.

  3. Bill Maloney

    I am so grateful to have decided to read some important emails, such as your’s, first thing this morning instead of diving into the newspaper. I am trying to awaken myself from the comfort of my white privilege and numbness. Your words and offered resources offer guidance. Thank you, Yvette.

  4. Mary LeSourd


  5. Karen Greer

    Yvette, I see you as having great wisdom to share. Thank you so much for putting words to what I have been thinking and feeling with regard to racism and not knowing what to do about it.
    I have begun speaking of my "internal racism" (last night) and taken a couple steps to share with other people about my biases. I will share this Blog with several friends.
    The books sound interesting as do the Essays. Like Cathy P. below, I see your insights as a Beacon of Light. Blessings and Peace as you share your wisdom in the world.

  6. Ryan Peterson

    This is really great, thanks for writing it!

  7. Amy Swenson

    I continue to learn from you. Thank you for adding structure and voice to much that is swirling around in my head.

  8. John James

    Dido. Marshall Rosenberg once said, “ It’s important and good that we be pulling the babies out of the river as they come floating down, but in social activism some of us must go up the river and find out who is throwing those babies in.” I believe that Bernie Sanders and his followers, and many volunteers at ActBlue are are at The top of the river. ActBlue is working for equality and justice for all and raising funds for the underprivileged. During this Covid crisis the billionaires have added 300 billion more dollars to their wealth.

    In taking time this morning to write this, I noticed some anxiousness and fear. It’s a voice in me that says,” Hurry up and get on with your day. Go make some money to support your household.” It also feels like being a consumer and have all the other things that everybody else has. I find it sad that it’s often so hard to slow down and take notice. I haven’t read it yet but I’m pretty sure a good resource is the book “The hate U give”

  9. Suzanne Long

    I was glad to find the essay by Tim Wise in the collection of 12. I have listened to many of his You Tube presentations and I am grateful for his confrontational approach, his courage to present with info and appropriate anguish and anger, and his perseverance to uncovering the deeper complexity of white supremacy. It meets my need for shared reality, compassion, integrity, freedom and understanding.


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