This week I am attending Opportunity Collaboration, a conference on poverty eradication. I love the goal of ending poverty.
The conference is structured as an unconference, something I’d only read about but never experienced. This morning, in this rather touchy-feely sort of way that is about a continent removed from my middle-aged comfort zone, we did an exercise outside on the soccer field to visually demonstrate privilege.
Last night’s sunset.
The exercise was not scientific but it was highly experiential. We all stood in a row on the goal line at one end of the soccer field. We were asked to step forward or backward, depending upon the question, with forward steps indicating privilege and backward steps representing the opposite (even now I struggle to pick the word that would best fist ta concept.)
As we went through the exercise very quickly the five white men in the group found themselves separated from and ahead of the women. As questions continued to come, further separation occurred. Ultimately, I found myself out front.
Out of 15 people, I found myself representing the most privileged population. Whether I am objectively in that group or not is beyond the point of the exercise. It worked to make me feel distinctly uncomfortable with my situation, recognizing that much of my success is not attributable to my hard work but to good fortune.
That perspective brought home some things in the context of poverty eradication. Having received much and having received it not due to merit alone but in large part due to my gender, the color of my skin, the place where I was born and even my religion, I owe a greater debt to others, especially those who are different than I am on these and other criteria.
Now the hard part: how do I go about giving back? How do I go about eliminating the cultural biases that favored me over black women, for instance?
Please feel free to comment below.