Brittany Packnett: Privilege is money you found and started spending

My COO Melea Nalli, Brittany Packnett, and me in Boston in January 2016
Brittany Packnett, activist and leader of Teach For America in St. Louis (and one of my heroes), wrote this on-point parable of privilege on Twitter and Facebook. I haven't seen it reprinted much, so I'd like to spread it around--especially given how uncannily it describes the abundant life I was born into.

A parable on wanting to keep what you didn't earn:

You go to the bank.

There's an extra $1 million deposited into your account.

You didn't earn it.

But you start to spend it.

As the days and weeks go by, and you keep spending on the things that you care about-you can send your daughter to the best college. Get your son that new car so he can go to practice. You can get that board seat, and help get your partner that job. You can take your family on a vacation or two, learn a new language or buy a better house in a better neighborhood with better schools. You join that exclusive club--the one with people who also got extra money-and build connections that benefit you for a lifetime.

But soon, people start to tell you that the money came to you by some ill-gotten means.

Other people suffered and were stolen from to get you that cash-that you didn't earn. In fact, the further back the story goes, the more you come to learn about the death, destruction, and carnage that went to earn you that money. And the people who were stolen from? They still suffer-generations later-from what was done to them.

There is no rhyme or reason to why these were the people chosen to lose for you to get a payday-but all you know is that they're different from you. They don't look like you, talk like you, or come from where you come from.

But by now, no matter how you got that money you didn't earn, you've gotten comfortable with it. It feels so natural to you that you don't remember what it was like not to have it.

And after all, you work hard. You're nice to people. You have merited this. What's so wrong with some extra money being put in your pocket, for your family and their families, given all that you do? It makes sense: you deserve a leg up, don't you? Maybe you *did* earn it-just by being you and not those *other* people, right?

And those people who lost out-maybe they did something to deserve it. They must not work as hard, or care as much about their families. You don't know many folks like them, so it's easy to justify their subjugation. And you don't ever have to spend time around one of them if you don't want to.

And maybe, one day, in the far future, you'll decide to start paying it back. Dollar by dollar, when it's comfortable, and you can afford it, in the ways that are convenient for you-even if you're not spending it on what *those* people really need.

THAT MILLION DOLLARS WORKS JUST LIKE PRIVILEGE: White privilege, male privilege, economic privilege, cis privilege, straight privilege, religious privilege...

You didn't earn it, and it shouldn't have been yours to begin with...but you're used to it, and may have even convinced yourself that you deserve it.

When it comes to privilege, don't expect people to make excuses for you holding onto it.

And don't expect people to applaud for you when you finally start to pay it back in the amounts, time and ways that makes you comfortable.

It ain't about you, because it shouldn't have been yours in the first place.

Just like that million bucks.


  1. Wow! I printed this out! Really made me think.

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