- Sharon's Anti-Racism Newsletter
- Let's Talk About Black Privilege
Let's Talk About Black Privilege
Because it's something we don't often hear about
A few weeks ago I appeared on Dr. Jonathan Ashong-Lamptey’s Authority Series to discuss my book, I’m Tired of Racism. I’ve had a few conversations with Dr. Jonathan in the last little while, and he always gives me something to think about. So it was no surprise that he asked some questions I’d never been asked before, which led us onto the subject of the privileges that some Black people enjoy (and yes, this also applies to Global Majority people).
I’m sharing a lightly edited excerpt of our interview below. This part of the conversation comes just after we discuss my choice to raise my biracial daughter in Barbados.
Dr. Jonathan: That implies a lot of agency there. Can you speak to that? Because once again, high-agentic individuals is not part of the narrative that we associate with people who are from underrepresented, marginalised backgrounds. And I'm using these terms which we typically associate with Black people.
So how's your experience with that? I think you have to balance to perspectives here, right? Because on the one hand there's a certain amount of privilege in being able to say “I'm going to pick myself up and I'm going to raise my child somewhere else”.
Sharon Hurley Hall: You know we don't think of Black people often as having privilege but the truth is we all enjoy some privilege in some circumstances.
I don't have skin privilege when I'm, you know, in a white majority country. I may not always have economic privilege. But you know what I do have is I have the privilege as a person who is both British and Caribbean to take my child and raise my child in the Caribbean.
Now it is a privilege I have because because of my parentage. I have Barbadian citizenship as well [as British]. So I had that option because of being a writer and being able to not be tied to a workplace, I had the privilege to do that.
Privileges Worth Exploring
I do think that in the way that we live and work now, where we don't have to be tied to a particular location always, I think more people have that option if they choose to exercise it. And you know, a lot of Black people have ties to other countries through parentage.
Because I know, for example, some people have chosen to relocate to African countries to escape racism. I know a lot of people in the States are doing that.
A lot of Black Brits have ties, especially to the Caribbean. So I think we don't always think of ourselves as being able to do that, but it is certainly something that we can explore.
I met a colleague who I met online, She passed through Barbados. She was from, I think, Canada and she had Caribbean parents and she relocated this year to Barbados to run her business from there. So it's not something that is out of reach for us but we have to explore it and we have to consider what the benefits might be of doing that for ourselves and for our children.
More Gains Than Losses
And you know, you give things up of course, You know, there are lots more travel opportunities and so on abroad, but then, you know, I think the fact that my daughter did not experience the same kind of discrimination… and, you know, I use that term, basically, because it's not that she didn't experience any, but within a school setting, especially in the schools that she ended up going to, you know, excellence was expected and encouraged.
They didn't look at her as a Black girl and say, (well she's biracial in fact), but as a Black girl, they didn't look at her and say: “This person is going to be a problem because of the colour of her skin. The way she shows up, the way she speaks, is going to be a problem. We expect certain level of criminal or undesirable behaviour from her.”
No, the opposite. The school she went to is the school that the majority of the prime ministers of Barbados have gone to, the prominent citizens of the Caribbean have gone to. And so they set that up on day one, right?
Dr. Jonathan: I love the way you, and I'm glad you've used that word, privilege, and you've recontextualised there for people who aren't used to hearing a Black person, a Black woman, identifying as having privilege, talking about their professional experience that allows them to make these decisions about where they live. So that came through in the book a lot, and I appreciate you sharing that.
Black Privilege Is Contextual
A little later in the conversation, we talked about the fact that while white skin removes many obstacles, privilege is often contextual for Black folx.
Dr. Jonathan: We've been talking about privilege…but at the same time we're talking about very painful experiences. … How can people make sense of that?
Sharon Hurley Hall: The thing is, is that we're not monoliths, right? We can enjoy privilege and still be hurt by the pain of racism.
That is a juxtaposition, what's the word I'm looking for? I can't find the word right now that’s a dichotomy, that Black and Global Majority people live with every day, right?
You can be Dr. Jonathan sitting here recording the Elements of Inclusion programme and you can go down the street and nobody is going to ask you whether you're Dr. Jonathan before they pull you over because you happen to be driving a nice car, right? … I can be Sharon Hurley Hall with my two Master's degrees. And when I go into an office where people are not expecting to see me, they're still going to treat me like I’m there to clean the room or make the tea, right?
And so every Black person I've ever talked to has had this kind of experience. Everyone, no matter where in the world they live, right?
So we live with that uncomfortable balance, that discomfort, all the time, you know. Yes, there are moments when your education, your education certainly buys you some privilege as a Black person in certain settings, but there are other settings where people aren't asking to look at your certificates, … not asking about how many degrees you have. They’re just looking at you and they're seeing a Black person. And they are treating you the way that they treat Black people.
I always remember the Jane Elliott video, very powerful one, where she's speaking to an audience. And she says, if you would like to be treated the same way as a Black person, stand up. Nobody stands and she repeats the question. Nobody stands and she says, “well, that means you know, and you're not doing anything about it”.
And so, I think this is just part of, this is how we live.
How does the notion of Black people enjoying privilege land with you?
I really enjoyed this discussion, and we explored some themes that I’ll probably continue in the newsletter in 2024. If you want to hear the whole conversation, you can watch it on LinkedIn or listen to the podcast.
Thanks for reading,
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© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2023. All Rights Reserved.
Cover photo courtesy of Canva.