Ford Foundation: On Privilege - Why Discomfort Is A Sign Of Progress

Monday, July 31, 2017

Ford Foundation: On Privilege - Why Discomfort Is A Sign Of Progress

Recently in Rio de Janeiro I had the chance to visit a membership-only club, located on the shores of the beautiful Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon. It was my first time at the club; I was accompanying a friend’s daughter who plays sports there. I felt a combination of dazzle and discomfort—even as I was treated courteously by the staff, it was as if, at any moment, I might be unmasked as someone who didn’t belong. But the day was beautiful, the view inviting. The warmth of the morning sun caressed my face. And so I relaxed, sat on the edge of the lagoon, took some photos, and paged through a book, hoping to enjoy a few hours of reading in front of that breathtaking landscape. 

Yet I could not stop thinking about my initial discomfort. It nagged at me. What had caused this feeling of displacement? This was not my first time in an elite space. And I'm actually accustomed to feeling like I don’t fit in with those kinds of environments. Life has given me opportunities to be in places of power and privilege, where people of my origin—black and suburban—are rarely seen. The position I hold today, as director of the Ford Foundation’s work in Brazil, not only opens up my access to these spaces of power but also requires a constant state of alertness about my own place of privilege. . .

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