Black Privilege

by Elise Lockamy


Retrieved August 27, 2013 from

Inhale. Exhale.

I actually took a moment to breathe it in.  The air was crisp and cool.  I felt refreshed.  I was standing on the campus of Milton Academy, the boarding school I attended for high school.  When I was there I did not appreciate it.  I was a gifted Black, Brooklyn girl thrown into a conglomerate of rich Others, all the while going through typical teenager angst.  It was a growing experience – tons of fun and a mess at the same time.

When I returned 8 years later I marveled at all I had access to.  There was an arts center, a well-manicured lawn (“the quad”), a cafeteria with loads of goodies, a student center, an observatory, modern gymnasium (complete with a weight room and ice hockey rink), expansive library, fabulous teachers, and great dorm parents. One year, Bill Clinton spoke at graduation.  (He is a close family friend of one of the legacy families at the school.)  There was a Kennedy in attendance when I was there.  Oh, you know the acclaimed writer Junot Diaz?  He visited after publishing his second work and had an intimate rap-session with the students of my English class.


When first pushed to explore black privilege I think about access.  Well look at all I had access to as a result of my academic talents .  The promise my teachers saw in me, the preparation Prep for Prep poured into me, and the support of family and friends propelled me to an echelon I could have never imagined experiencing.  I was living the dream, so to speak, and did not know it.  Is that privilege though?  Access to amenities and influential people?

I reflect on the results of my google query.  Privilege, it seems, is less about access and more about authority in a position of governance.  I maintain that we, the class of “firsts” – the first to go to college, the first to make it out the ‘hood, the first to travel and live outside of the U.S., the first to rub noses with millionaires – are living in a space where we are free to choose how to govern ourselves.

Let me philosophize a little more.

We, the post-freedom riders, are now free to choose whether or not to embrace diversity and multiculturalism, become the people who gentrify our historic neighborhoods, identify as Black, and vote Democrat.  We are free to choose whether or not we combat inequality and injustice, marry inside the race, or give back to community.

Pre-privilege, there was no choice.  You were Black (one-drop rule remember).  You lived in a certain neighborhood and sat in the back not by choice but by legal mandate.

But as we progress I ponder this – when we judge our brothers and sisters for voting Republican and marrying White (yea I said it), are we in fact putting our chains back on and revoking our privileges?  When we take back a person’s Black card have we in fact behaved as our former oppressors and stolen identity, as it was, because he or she does not resemble our Blackness?

(I think I may have just ripped off a scab.   I’ll follow-up when it gets itchy again.)

I went on to Georgetown University and fell in love with a life’s call there.  I even pursued a Master’s degree in a field my parents still do not know how to describe.   I enjoy my authority.  I chose to be the dream without becoming a doctor, lawyer, or investment banker.  I enjoy my friends from different nations who do not look like me and may not understand my cultural experience.  I defend those with low-incomes to those who have turned their noses up at them.  I enjoy my music… nice and loud… and will not apologize for doing so.  This Black privilege echoes the freedom I have found in Christ, to be exactly who he designed me to be without all the condemnation and apologies. Freedom rings here.

What do you do with your Black privilege (free will)?  Do you try to fit the mold or do you live free?  Do you oppress or do you edify?  Leave your reflections in the comments section.  I would love to hear your thoughts.