We all have privileges.
If you are reading this now, you are privileged in many ways. Some of these advantages you have been born with, while others you fought to receive. Some, as we are reminded by today’s “Strike for Black Lives,” have been won through collective action.
While I am a minority, I understand I have privileges that Black people don’t. In 1965, an Immigration Act was passed that enabled Indian Americans, especially those with specialized professional skills, to enter into this country. If you were proficient, smart, and skilled, America welcomed you–a starkly different invitation compared to how Black slaves were brought into the country.
Yet, when 9/11 occurred, I sat in my middle school classroom suddenly wanting more than anything to be White. While we watched the news blaring from the TV, I didn’t want any of my classmates to turn around and see me…the Brown kid. In that moment, there was nothing I could do; the color of my skin was the one thing I couldn’t change. I couldn’t peel it off.
Over the years, I took this feeling and channeled it into learning how to be in a room with White people. Instead of hiding in the shadows, it forced something out of me. It pushed me to be better, to want more, and to strive to become the best version of myself. You can call that grit or privilege, but either way, it brought me here: to being an educated investor, successful entrepreneur, and self-aware individual with more resources than the average person.
For anyone who feels privileged in your life and your business, I have two messages for you to consider right now:
Don’t victimize your privilege; be grateful for it.
This is not the time to run away from your liberties. If you are reading this or any media content and feel guilty for the privileges you have (and we all have them)–let that go. Victimizing your privilege only adds to the problem. While you can’t necessarily explain what your ancestors did, you can make the informed decision to be grateful for what you personally were born with. I was blessed to be born into a system that supports people like me. I hope you are too.
If you are a White entrepreneur, if you have a voice or platform to speak on, now is not the time to feel guilty for what you have been given. It is time to own the responsibility that comes with what you have. Admit that you have received benefits from being White and be humbly grateful for this truth.
Accepting that privilege has played a role in your success must occur in order for lasting change to take place. Don’t get me wrong. The hard work and effort put into building your business are still wildly important. This simply means the color of your skin hasn’t stopped you from the success you have attained.
Take inventory of your concessions and practice relentless appreciation for what you have. This, in turn, will attract like-minded employees, customers, and partners to your business. When you’re grateful for what you have, the lens through which you view business shifts from lack to opportunity. It’s time to view these opportunities in a way that aids minorities in the workplace.
Use privilege within your business.
While embracing this truth is a powerful show of support, it is only the first step. In order for the protests, difficult conversations, and unfortunate violence and destruction to matter, long term effort to reduce racial discrimination must be created and sustained.
As a business leader, ask yourself how your privileges and gifts can help you be ethically opportunistic in this time. How can you better serve and reach a more diverse demographic of employees, customers, and vendors? How can you shift your corporate culture to celebrate and encourage diversity in the workplace?
When you have the privilege to donate a percentage of your annual revenue, give to minority communities or Black-owned businesses. When you have the privilege to hire new staff, recruit graduates from diverse universities, and screen résumés without reading names (which often indicate race and cultural background). When you have the privilege to offer your staff time off, celebrate and acknowledge all religious and cultural holidays. These actions only scratch the surface of what your business can do to leverage your advantage to help others.
We are all only a few degrees of separation away from being on the other side of privilege. Never take it for granted.