Privilege: Checking the Blind Spot

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[This is part two of a three part series on privilege. See part 1 here.] A couple of months ago, I was driving through Indiana on my way to Grand Rapids, MI, for work. I’m a good driver, but I do tend to take some risks (don’t tell my insurance company!). When I’m on the freeway, I do my best to get out of big groups of cars because it’s a dangerous place to be. That, ironically, can sometimes mean that I weave through traffic.

On this trip, I was quickly changing lanes through the traffic and moving over to the leftmost (and fastest) lane. I glanced over my shoulder, saw no one, and started moving.

Suddenly there was a loud honk. As I swung the wheel back into my original lane, I saw a Jeep Cherokee swerving to get back into her lane. She had been right in my blind spot. And, boy, was she angry. Understandably so, because I’d nearly caused a major accident in the middle of rush hour traffic. I was shaken up, too, and, for a short time, angry. “What was she doing hanging out in my blind spot like that? Doesn’t she know I can’t see there!?”

Privilege is like that blind spot. Most of us know, in some ways, that it’s there, but we often don’t realize the extent to which it affects our vision. And if we’re not careful about it, we’ll end up running someone else off the road – or worse. It can also be really frustrating to realize that something was in your blind spot and that you almost hurt them (or did hurt them, as the case may be).

Being called out – the metaphorical car horn - sucks. It does – it sucks to realize you made an egregious error. It sucks to be going along seemingly without issue and then suddenly have something unexpected happen that it is entirely your fault.

But it sucks even more to be the person who was in the blind spot, the person who now has had their life threatened by you not being careful. No matter how offended you may be that they honked at you, they’re probably in the right. They can see their position and yours better through their experience, and you need to trust that they see something you don’t.

Additionally, it’s not their job to educate you on what you did wrong. Ideally, you already know or realized it as soon as they said something. When I tried to change lanes and the lady honked, I realized that I probably should have been more careful in checking my blind spot on that side. It is not the job of the person who honks to make sure that I know exactly what I did wrong – she can’t be pulling over every car that causes a problem and giving them a refresher in Driver’s Education.

Likewise, the person you offended and hurt when you spoke from a place of privilege doesn’t have a responsibility to explain to you why what you did was wrong. Most of the time, they’ve got other crap to do and don’t have time to re-explain your blind spots to you.

Sometimes, you’ll be lucky enough to have someone who will pull over with you and tell you exactly what you did wrong. Treasure those moments and recognize that they are doing something they have zero obligation to do. But often, that won’t be the case. It will be your responsibility to figure out where that blind spot is and reexamine what you did or said.

So please, don’t be that guy who is driving as though he owns the road and he’s the only driver on it. There are all sorts of different vehicles and vantage points out there, and if you’re not careful about looking for and understanding how their view is different, you’re going to run somebody over.

And I think that’s the end of that metaphor. Tomorrow, we discuss being the vehicle that’s in the blind spot.

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3