My Ignorant Privilege

"There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys, how's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"

- David Foster Wallace, American Author

The last few months have stirred me to my core; in both the best and most challenging of ways. First, COVID-19 shook the tree of life and all the superfluous leaves and branches fell, leaving just the ones that were core to survival: health, family and love.

Then, George Floyd’s death rocked the world; including mine.

I am not wise enough yet to tell you why now, but for me, as for many, it is now.

I feel compelled to try and understand what led to this moment. The backdrop. The roots. The nearly 500 years of hardship and tension that has led to this moment.

I am diving into everything I can get my hands on – from documentaries such as 13th and The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, as well as books such as Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy. This is just the beginning of an educational journey I have committed myself to.

I have finally realized I am a winner of the privilege lottery. 

I am a white, middle-aged, heterosexual, cisgender, upper-middle-class, university-educated, able-bodied, English-speaking male living in Canada.

There are probably more, but the unearned advantages I benefit from and can identify to date are race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, education, class, ability, country of origin, language and age. 

This is my water. Or rather, this was my water. From this point on, while I can choose to ignore it, I can never unsee it.

I must admit, I don’t feel guilty for having these privileges. It feels like wasted energy to harbour guilt over things I was born into and did not control. 

However, I do feel deeply apologetic and embarrassed by my ignorance; that it took me 46 years to see the water. Sorry and shameful that I’m only now doing the work and jacking up the internal honesty dial after nearly five decades, acknowledging I knew elements of the water were there but chose to ignore them.

That said, I am now compelled to put these lottery winnings in service of others…

"Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better."

- Maya Angelou

As part of my identity, I pride myself on doing the work to become the best version of myself. Digging deep over the last two decades to try and understand how I am showing up and helping myself and others find the courage to be ourselves in this lifetime.

Sadly, I never really thought about white privilege until now. 

Whether it’s walking down streets and through store doors, into a job interview or any interaction, I hadn’t really thought of the colour of my skin. While I will never fully understand what it’s like to be Black, Indigenous, or a person of colour (BIPOC), and have the colour of my skin be an obvious and conscious backdrop to all of life’s moments, I am now forever aware of its existence and can speak out against racial micro and macro-aggressions whenever and wherever I see them.

In doing research and discovery around the history behind my white privilege, I came across this passage in Martin Luther King Jr’s 1963  Letter from a Birmingham Jail,:

"First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action;" who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."

- Martin Luther King Jr

My heart sinks as I admit I have been the white moderate – the person of goodwill with shallow understanding and lukewarm acceptance.

I realize my white fragility has mostly taken the form of white silence or white apathy. 

But now, I know better and as such, can and will, do better.

As a parent of two young girls, I had been teaching colour blindness. I did not want my girls to treat people differently because of the colour of their skin. But in doing so, I was not teaching them the struggles that BIPOC are facing in our communities. I was not providing them with the historical context that has led to where we are today. Educating them as to the cultural pollution in the water that can be omnipresent, yet often invisible. 

I now know better and as such, can, and will do better.

Having not yet had the courage to get myself involved in deep, necessary conversations on race, I realize I have been mentally tone-policing news stories or interviews, asking myself,   can’t we all just calm down and talk about this rationally? Totally dismissing, downplaying and diminishing the historical and rampant strife that has led the protests, fighting back and courage we are seeing today.

I now know better. I can and will do better. 

Within colour blindness lies a subtle yet significant difference between equality and equity. The concept that we are all born equal is a myth colour blindness perpetuates. My privilege perpetuated the myth. Our starting lines in the race of life vary in the most dramatic of ways. Equality, when it comes to humanity, seems purely theoretical. 

What is possible however is equity. Simply put, fairness.

We must take into account the discrepancies in people’s starting points and current realities. To start treating people fairly, we must first recognize, make space for, and celebrate our differences. Let’s not try and lump us all into sameness. Therein lies the danger preventing honest and open discussions around privilege — and the lack thereof. 

Therefore, the levelling of the so-called playing field must first come through equity if we truly hope to make equality a reality.  

So what’s next? For me? For all of us?

I am committing to a lifelong journey of anti-racism.

The road ahead is long and the process will be messy. I have so much to learn and to unpack within myself.  I must unearth subconscious biases and potentially racist thought patterns, shed light on them to build a more solid racial foundation.

I will do better. I will do the work. I will have the difficult conversations. 

I am re-reading Me and White Supremacy together with my family and completing the 28-day challenge. We will discuss and develop a deeper understanding of the concepts of: 

White Privilege, White Fragility, Tone Policing, White Silence, White Superiority, White Exceptionalism, Colour Blindness, Anti-Blackness, Racist Stereotypes, Cultural Appropriation, White Apathy, White Centering, Tokenism, White Saviorism and Optical Allyship.

I am continuing my overall racial education and that of my family and colleagues.

I am providing diversity and inclusion training for my team.

I am becoming a white ally by supporting local organizations fighting for racial equality.

I am calling out any and every racial aggression I witness.

In essence, I will now use my privilege to fight for equity.

Ignorance is no longer my excuse. I’m sorry it ever was.

Peter Georgariou

CEO & Founder

With over 18 years of experience in sales, marketing and operations, Peter enjoys helping businesses establish the proper structures, strategies and marketing plans to help them achieve their goals and dreams. He is helping them make the most of their potential and ability to impact the communities in which they live.

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