My Biggest Privilege Yet
If English is your first language, move forward. I stepped forward.
Last year, I was at an event celebrating International Women’s Day, hosted by LaunchVic. There were 10 minute lightning sessions for big ideas, and my colleague Lina ran the gathering through an activity called a privilege walk.
The premise is simple. A statement is read aloud. If it’s something that has created an advantage in your life, take a step forward (or a notch right it you’re doing it on paper). If it’s something that has been a disadvantage, do the opposite.
If you studied the culture of your ancestors in high school, move forward.
I stepped forward.
If you can find Band-Aids at mainstream stores designed to blend in with or match your skin tone, move forward.
I stepped forward.
If you were ever accepted for something you applied to because of your association with a friend or family member, move forward.
I stepped forward.
All in all, I moved ten places forward.
While there were some statements that meant I took a step back (usually related to my gender), by the end of the session there was a very clear picture I was further ahead of many.
It made me feel uncomfortable, guilty. Like I had cheated at a game — been given rule book by a friend and watched others be punished by unseen rules.
Privilege isn’t something that’s equalised by guilt though. Instead, having an awareness and acknowledging your privilege means you can act. As people much wiser than me have said, you can’t control the actions of the past, but you can control what you do now.
It’s not a place I’m comfortable with yet but I’m trying my best to learn from and be inspired by many amazing people around me in my current field. People like Lina Patel, Alvaro Maz, Krzysztof Madejski, Anthony Cabraal and Melinda Briana Epler, but also the colleagues and community I share my everyday with.
So with all of this fear and uncertainty, I’m exercising my privilege in the biggest way I can think of: I’m starting a social enterprise.
Small Fires is a new series of books that seeks to show what it’s like to grow up in different places around the world, with children’s books being co-created with change-makers from those communities.
And I don’t say change-makers for the buzzword. The partners I’m working with are literally changing their communities. And, like many non-profits around the world, are severely under-resourced.
In an effort to share some of the immense power a business holds and generates, part of the revenue and 75% the profits will be reinvested back into these communities (25% will be kept for a rainy day and future opportunities to empower others in this space). And of course, there are ways to share power in forms other than dollars, and which I’ll be endeavouring to embed in every aspect of business.
It’s a terrifying journey, one I don’t feel remotely knowledgable enough to take on. But I’m working towards the type of world I needed growing up and the one I still want to see today.
One where there is healthy representation and respect for all cultures, traditions and ways of living around the world.
Where kids can see themselves reflected in the things they read, no matter where they come from or what they look like.
And where media doesn’t focus on the things that separate us, but works to find common ground that pulls us closer together.
If you want to join me on this journey, I’d love to share it with you.
Lastly, there are too many people to thank to whom I owe this position, but here’s a first attempt at acknowledgment:
My mum and dad — for creating a childhood where I was loved endlessly and pushed to learn.
My mum specifically — for teaching me empathy, patience and curiosity about the world.
And my dad too — for first putting an idea in my head that I might one day start a business and for always extending my horizons.
To my sister, Katie — for showing me what it takes to start something from your living room along with the glorious and not so glamorous side of doing so.
To Lynn Torbert — for taking me with you to two different jobs that changed my life.
To Nick Houldsworth — for taking on a new grad with no experience based on a hacked together video with pirated music.
To Veronica Munro — for taking the time to talk to a near stranger and encouraging me to apply for a job I didn’t feel qualified for.
To Lina specifically — for sharing your power with me and helping me understand the many ways you do this everyday.
There are countless others, from my community here in Melbourne, and my network of friends and family around the world. Thank you.
Also, this is a first attempt at acknowledging the privilege I have through connections. There are many other invisible forces that have meant this dream is even an option — things like finance, education and health.
If you’re curious about what these mean in detail, I’d encourage you to check out this article. I’ll be trying to write more about these too.