What Do I Do With My Privilege?
By Autumn Morris
I am biracial and half of the time I don’t even know what the fuck that means. And of course, people in my hometown didn’t make it any easier for me while I was growing up. Adults and children alike constantly asked me, “what are you?” While this problematic question disrupted my peace for so long, it is the candid version of what any person may think when they look at me, whether they verbalize it or not. I’m brown, I have silky hair that also is in an afro most of the time, I have a wide nose, but I have medium sized lips, etc. While each of these features individually could be stereotyped, as a whole person, I am the living anti-stereotype. My existence is a conflict of interest and that is unsettling to people. Therefore, their confusion surfaces as “what are you?”
That’s a great question. What am I? Ultimately, it comes down to the person asking to decide. What am I to you and how will you treat me because of it?
Due to my dual ethnicity, I have a very interesting relationship with privilege. I am too white to be completely oppressed (which is privilege) but too black to hold substantial privilege (which is oppression). I can’t identify with the black experience or the white experience because my appearance doesn’t unapologetically scream to the world where I come from.
Allowing my identity to rest in the hands of strangers is infuriating, but it is a unique opportunity. To some people I am just white, and with that comes privilege, inclusivity, and power. Being viewed as white gives me seats at tables that my people of color (POC) neighbors do not get. But, most importantly, being seen as white gives me a unique opportunity to pass the mic to people who would never get it otherwise. It gives me a place to draw attention to stories and experiences of the oppressed. While my whiteness does not invalidate my own oppression, it does alleviate it, and that is important to acknowledge. And to those of you who are white to any capacity, I encourage you to do the same with your privilege.
To some people, I am just black or colored. With this comes oppression, negative stereotypes, and limited opportunities. When I am viewed as colored or black it allows me to get angry and seek to engage in activism to dismantle racism and inequality. When I am seen as black it gives me insight, familiarity, and unique empathy to the daily battles of the oppressed. When I am viewed as black it keeps me grounded. My blackness inhibits me from turning a blind eye to the current societal temperature.
I am biracial which allows me to be oppressed and powerful at the same time. It allows me to be an activist for those who don’t have a voice. It allows me to take the anger from oppression and voice it with my privilege. THAT is the power of being the product of both the minority and the majority. THAT is my duty. And THAT is applicable in every community and in every facet of oppression.
As you read this, I am unaware of your ethnicity, your ability, your gender identity or your sexual orientation. I do not know the level of oppression you face or stereotypes you fall within. I do not know your experiences. But I am calling you to evaluate your privilege (if you have any). If you have ANY sort of inkling of privilege, it is important to utilize it for the betterment of your community. For instance, a white woman (who may suffer oppression due to her gender) could advocate for or pass the mic to a woman of color (who may suffer oppression due to her race and her gender). Speak on behalf of your neighbors, your friends, your family, and even strangers. It is important to acknowledge that your level of privilege does not invalidate your suffering or oppression (if you face any), rather, it allows you to give a voice to the oppressed communities.
It is infuriating and confusing to be biracial but it has taught me to check my privilege and learn to stay engaged in the fight for total equality. Who are you an activist for?