By Mohammad Salhia, MEd
As I sat down to craft this editorial, I struggled a bit with where to start. Of course, I was tasked with saying a few words about equity, inclusion, and diversity (EDI), and though I am steeped in this work between my home organization, doctoral studies, and SACME, I wasn’t quite sure where to start. So, I started jotting down some words for inspiration, and spent time alone to reflect on what was emerging for me. How could something I often talk about socially and professionally, and am reading so much on, be so hard to start writing about? After all, this should be “easy,” right? Wrong. We live in a time where the dialogue on EDI is increasingly complex. In fact, it is my personal belief (as is this entire commentary, I should note), that there is so much to say and theorize about equity and inclusion that we have somehow created a climate where the discussion is, perhaps, becoming more inequitable and inaccessible.
I continue to reflect on why, from my vantage point, and with all my intersectionality, I believe this to be a truth. In many ways, the EDI conversation is so much about a greater whole, and a social contract. Of course, this is the end goal, and yet I often wonder if in positioning it as such, we (the “royal We”) miss the point that at some level, this all starts with our own selves, as individuals, by inspecting and deconstructing our own lived experiences. We have all uniquely lived life in some capacity, and have likely observed or been the recipient of different forms of prejudice or discrimination. As I contemplated this, and engaged in my own self-reflection of the words and ideas popcorning through my mind, I paused at the idea of privilege, and I wondered if this offers a foundation for my observation.
Oxford Languages define privilege as “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.” We have been hearing this word often as it relates to race, racism, anti-racism, socioeconomic status, etc. It also appears in our vernacular – “that is so privileged,” or “check your privilege” are phrases I hear friends, family, colleagues, and myself often say when calling out, or identifying, different forms of unearned advantage play out in our daily happenings at work, walking down the street, driving through different neighbourhoods, or perhaps while watching television. Privilege, I feel, is a construct and an idea that is inherent in many things we touch.
My positionality and the way I see the world has never been so fluid. An extension of this, then, is the opportunity to challenge my own biases and blind spots, as I facilitate discussions about biases and blind spots. What does really privilege look like, and more specifically, what does my own? I am, without a doubt, privileged. I have earned advantages I worked hard for (e.g. my credentials, role/title), and unearned advantages that were simply part of the hand of cards the universe dealt me (e.g. I’m born and identify as a cis-gendered male, I was born in a resource-rich “first world” country). I, of course, bear unearned disadvantage. Some may argue, for example, that being a person of colour impacts my belonging in some contexts, or that identification with the LGBT2S+ community does the same. I also came from very humble beginnings, growing up in a seven-family household in a two-bedroom dwelling. Though this is true, in the greater context of me, myself, and I, I still believe I have privilege.
So to this end, I asked myself an important question: what does my own privilege really look like? Acknowledging this, and furthermore, any biases I might hold, is, in my mind, a personal responsibility one has as a means to contribute to equity in the fullest sense of the word. It makes one an active agent in driving this process and allows one to “see” themselves in the work.
I am a complex person who does not identify as being part of the “dominant majority,” and I believe I have privilege. I have privilege in terms of my family supports and the structures I grew up with, my access to education, and the professional and social circles I occupy. The latter offer support systems, a network of people, mentors, and the resources and the supports that come with my professional and academic engagements. Second, I consider my membership at SACME a privilege, and, by virtue of being able to write this commentary, I have the privilege of a platform and a voice I perhaps may not have otherwise had. This platform gives me permission, and enables me, to ask more complex, difficult, or uncomfortable questions. It also, I believe, allows me to challenge the perceived status quo of a system, while working with many to plant the seeds for a different kind of membership engagement and opportunity for our Society to look inwardly and ask itself questions about its enablement of equity, inclusion, and belonging.
My point is that privilege is all around us, and if we spend a few minutes thinking about it, we might just describe it in ways we haven’t traditionally. For me, privilege is therefore beyond skin colour and ethnicity. It is a combination of advantages that are either earned or unearned by virtue of one’s unique convergence of circumstances, or their intersectionality. Some things we work hard for; others are part of the cards we’ve been dealt. It is important to note that my words are not meant to invalid the experience of those whose intersectionality makes them the subject of systemic injustices and inequities, or that traditional archetypes of advantage do not exist as part of the greater social norms established via centuries of Westernization and colonialization. Of course, these things exist, and unraveling their social influence is, I feel, a driver of EDI work. They do, however, provoke an important, reflexive exercise about aspects of one’s lived identity in the context of their surroundings and unique, overall personal experience.
I’m still learning. I claim not to be an expert of EDI. I am, however, as we all are, an expert at being a human being – at feeling, experiencing emotion, and living compassionately and empathetically; and at feeling excluded, as if I didn’t belong, that I shouldn’t belong, or that I’m “less than.” Think about this. Have you felt this way?
This all starts with you and where you are at with this dialogue. I have an invitation for you. Take five minutes after reading this. What is emerging for you and what are you feeling? Sit with that and unpack it a little bit. How do you define privilege, and what does it look like to you? This is an important discussion to have as part of a broader social journey. It is part of a social exercise to make equity, inclusion, and diversity an accessible conversation for each one of us to participate in, while acknowledging how systemic and sociocultural marginalization affect social and institutional belonging. Indeed, contemplate our individual and collective privilege it is important as we consider our EDI focus at SACME.
Mohammad Salhia is Director, Continuing Education, The Michener Institute of Education at UHN, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. email@example.com.