Hidden privilege is, by definition, something that’s hard to see–especially in ourselves. And even as we begin to address it, it still has the power to hurt, like fragments of broken glass invisible to the naked eye. Meredith Barnes offers us insight into the process we go through when our privileges are revealed to us, and how these revelations might shape the way we engage with the world around us.
The glass shatters. It slips through my fingers while I’m not paying attention—the way that inanimate objects sometimes exert free will.
Things slip and leap and sometimes they break. In the split second before the bottle hits the ground I think maybe it won’t break, but it does before I can even finish the thought.
I sigh and wish my hands hadn’t faltered.
Kneeling down amongst the shards, I grab a broom, wet towel, and vacuum and try to do the impossible—clean what I cannot see. I work swiftly as small feet run frequently in this space and the baby crawls—with even smaller soft pink knees that still trust a safety I cannot guarantee.
Glass collected, I stand and sigh, sure it will not be the end of this story. And it’s not.
A few days later it is warm and my guard is down. I bask in the luxury of open windows and slow breezes. I hum a tune that my mother sang to me when I was little.
I am walking barefoot in the kitchen when I step on the small but sharp bit of glass. It had escaped the previous day’s copious search and sits waiting—holding its bite for my unsuspecting step.
The thing about broken glass is it’s hard to see.
But just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it can’t hurt you when stepped upon.
And just like broken glass, our own biases can be hard to see but still draw blood on impact.
We are in a phase of sweeping up the glass in this country. We are recognizing that the work some of us thought was done, hasn’t been completed.
There are still shards of hurt hiding in the world, hardest for privileged eyes to see.
A SHATTERED REALITY
Fourteen years ago, when I was a student doing my rotations to become a Physician Assistant, I was working on the south side of Chicago. It was the second office I had worked for in the area, and I had enjoyed the first experience so much that when they offered me another position in the community, I accepted gratefully.
A few weeks into my time there, someone came into the office to say something had happened outside—a car had been broken into. After they gave a brief description—silver, Volvo SUV—I knew immediately it was mine.
I grabbed my car keys and rushed outside. It was spring but the temperature was below 40 degrees and the wind whipped at my face as I rushed to my car.
Sure enough, my driver’s side window was smashed—glass covering the front seat and ground beneath my feet. Items that had been inside the car were now gone: a pair of sunglasses, a dress I had never worn with the tags still attached, and some spare change amongst the lost items.
The violation was not in what was taken but what was lost—my sense of safety in the world. My claim on what I considered a basic right.
I walked back inside the office stunned. The clear film of security I had unconsciously assumed was all around me had ripped wide open—allowing a cold Chicago chill to invade deep within my soul.
Everyone in the office stood silent for a moment before one of my coworkers said to me, “You’ve never had your car broken into before?”
The tone was simple and flat, without sympathy or shock. It wasn’t cruel or kind, it was honest.
A broken car window was not out of the ordinary in this community. I was what was unordinary.
Me and my privilege were the visitors to their reality. A reality where the world was unsafe and could take from you what it wanted. I shook my head and continued the work day, wondering at a world where broken glass was simply a normal occurrence.
FIXED—BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
I fixed the window and learned not to keep things in my car that I wasn’t ready to part with.
The only item I made sure was always present in my center console was a small book that could almost fit in the palm of my hand: A mini NIV New Testament—an offering to the next visitor, and a reminder to myself that while we are all created as equals we are not always treated this way. As Paul writes in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
I left my time working on the southside of the city with a greater awareness of my own previously unrecognized privilege, and humbly resolved not to forget the uncomfortable truths I had learned about the reality of life in this community in comparison to my own.
Just yesterday I dropped another bottle. This time the glass that broke was a shade of green. It was easier to see; easier to find the stray pieces; easier to clean up. And yet I still wait for a small pinch at my heel. A tiny drop of blood from a covert and stubborn piece of glass.
Each time we address our inherent biases they may become easier to see, but it will still take effort to clean them up.
15 SIMPLE WAYS TO ADD JOY TO YOUR DAY IN LESS THAN AN HOUR
Need a little extra joy in your day?
Our team has put together this FREE printable for our readers to help you infuse joy into your life quickly. Enter your name and email below and we’ll send this fun printable right over!
Share This Post