Degrees of Separation and a Privilege Inventory

Degrees of Separation and a Privilege Inventory

I have spoken before about degrees of separation and using a privilege inventory. Being aware of ones own privileges is a good way to monitor our own behavior. Briefly, when presented with a situation where you are unsure whether you or someone else is executing privilege, I suggest you do a privilege inventory and determine who has the operating privilege. If the privilege is yours shut up, listen, and apologize. If it someone else go for it, call it for what it is. Often we are in institutions where we share privileges and oppressions across various levels and sometimes we are not sure whether an act was racist, sexist, ageist, homophobic or heterosexist for example. I use the privilege inventory to gauge my behavior.

Dealing with Your Behavior

If it is your behavior which is manifesting racism, the hardest part will be seeing it. If you are lucky, someone will bring it too your attention. I say lucky because it is an opportunity to change if you know about it. If one day it dawns on you, that your behavior is racist, the first step is to stop the behavior. You can spend time analyzing it later. The first step is to stop.

A loved one's behavior

How do you tell some one you love that their behavior is racist. I know from telling loved ones that their behavior is sexist or homophobic that it is not easy. I am reminded of my mother admonishing us as children to cease being cruel to another child. She said it softly and directly, she did not smile. She said "I think what you are doing is wrong, and I want it to stop." It was that soft spoken admonishment that stopped me in my tracks. I have used a similar tack with my family and close friends, "Now you know I do not approve of that". I repeat it at each infraction, never raising my voice. Over time, the behavior usually changes.

The behavior of a colleague or casual acquaintance

The behavior of colleagues and casual acquaintances is different. In these cases, I sometime have to raise my voice. I have ended or curtailed friendships with people because of their behavior. I often lecture, challenge and make fun of them to turn the table. If I bother at all to challenge them, most often after a while they start coming to me triumphantly when they began to see the ism in others. I have been very successful in this area.

Authority figure

Authority figures are another area altogether. I have had mixed success in challenging the racism of people in positions of authority over me. This is an area where allies are crucial. I as a woman of color am often in a precarious position. I have learned first hand the forces that can be let loose against an uppity black women. Support networks are key. As an ally, you can help me and others like me by supporting my challenges, challenging the person your self or at the very lest confirming my perspective.


Challenging organizational or institutional racism, like racism by an authority figure requires a support network for people of color and allies that are prepared to act. In fact no matter whether the racism is regional, governmental, in business, cultural, community based or around the world requires the same actions. Only the scope changes.

©Katrina C. Hopkins1998

Katrina Hopkins is a singer/songwriter poet, magical/political activist, Reclaiming teacher and super geek, who lives in Washington DC.

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