In May, my godbrother, David, came to visit me in Portland for a few days. On his last night in town I made him manually tighten the screws on my dining room table. It was a job I could have done myself, but he’s handier than I am — also I didn’t want to do it. It made us both feel better to give him a small job to complete before he hit the road early the next day, and now my table doesn’t require a pre-apology when company comes over.
This is the kind of person my brother has grown up to be — someone who drives for hours to visit me, volunteers to do the work I don’t want to do, and then leaves, happy to have been of assistance. He’s a genuinely wonderful human who loves deeply and is much smarter than me, someone who is so reliable that for a while when we were living together in D.C., instead of listing my serious partner as my emergency contact, I listed David. He’s unfailingly good and kind and compassionate and did I mention smart?
The context here is important, because David is also one of the most privileged people I know. He’s white, had access to one of the best private primary school educations in the country, and went on to graduate from Duke University. He grew up in Washington D.C. surrounded by wealth, power, and prestige, and there are few upper echelons into which he is not instantly welcomed (or that he cannot talk his way into).
But while we were chatting recently about what comes next for us, he mentioned that at some point he’d like to run for office, or help a particularly Kennedy-esque friend of his succeed in running for office. It took awhile for me to take deep breaths and circle back around to it after a few minutes, but I did. I didn’t ask why David thought he should run for office — he’d make a devastatingly astute politician or master strategist for someone else. He’d be out there shaking babies and kissing hands with the best of them.
The question for me, however, isn’t why someone could do something, it’s if they should. If David runs for office and is a fairly effective representative and does good work and things improve, is that the best use of his privilege? Or is it better if David decides to throw his money and political knowhow and connections behind a person of color or a woman or a queer candidate or an immigrant who is just as charming and brilliant, but doesn’t have access to the stratosphere David has moved in since birth? What are the ripple effects of each of these options? Does David’s decision to go work for a candidate like, say, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez create more change than running himself? I wholeheartedly believe it does.
This shift in how we use our privilege and realign our perspective feels like one of the most critical components to fomenting immediate change in broken systems. We must weigh the benefits to supporting marginalized community members as leaders, even if that comes at the expense of one’s own upward mobility. The internet loves to quote, “When you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression,” but I’m waiting for the day, “When you uplift others, your joy and satisfaction in their success will be greater than your own,” goes viral.