What I learned about allyship after being called privileged

After being called privileged as a university basketball player, Kwasi shares an interesting lesson he learned about allyship!

Takeaway: Learn to recognize the areas of your life that you experience privileges and barriers. The more you see and acknowledge these, the more you can help people feel seen and supported.

Like many lessons in my life, I learned them through basketball. Here’s a quick story-turned-lesson on allyship if you’re looking to support people around you with more grace and compassion. Let’s take it back to 2017.

It was a simpler time. We didn’t know a pandemic was around the corner. 2016 just happened. There was a lot to be grateful for.

For me, I was a member of my university’s basketball team on scholarship. It was a tough path to get to that point. I grew up in a tough neighbourhood, overcame a traumatic childhood injury, and even had to save lunch money to afford my passport for travel ball in high school. I felt like the epitome of an underdog in many ways.

That’s why it caught me off guard when a woman on another varsity team called me privileged. “Are you dumb?”, I thought in a very Toronto accent.

The part of me that grew up in social housing and experienced things like racism since childhood were triggered. The part of me that never wanted to let being a varsity athlete make me act high & mighty felt unjustly attacked.

My mom taught me to listen before I speak, so I stomached my initial reaction and heard her out. She explained that her team received less funding, attention, and recognition from the university compared to mine.

When I saw her perspective, I was able to start understanding where she was coming from.* I didn't realize it at the time, but this experience taught me about positionality.

*The conversation went well because she did not equate our struggles. If she tried to do that, it may have had a very different outcome.

Positionality is the idea that we experience life in relation to our various social identities and positions (race, gender, sexual orientation, status etc). I believe as you recognize your positions in life, you can understand how to better connect and empathize with others.

Though you can face oppression in some areas of life, you may experience privileges in others. As a heterosexual man that played on a well-known varsity team, I had some social privileges in the public eye compared to the woman I mentioned for example. Our conversation opened my eyes to how we can experience privilege in relation to one another.

That's why from that conversation, I started to apply my nuanced understanding of privilege to champion inclusion in different ways.

I joined my university’s varsity leadership committee to uplift and connect athletes no matter their sport.

I was a welcome week rep at my university that helped incoming students from all walks of life know there was a place for them.

I joined an anti-racism advisory group in my university. I leveraged my position as a Black student-athlete to speak to how the Black student experience could be improved as a whole.

I’m saying this to leave you with an important takeaway. Privilege isn’t a static thing. It exists on a spectrum and in relation to those around you. I believe the more you recognize this in your life, the more you can be an ally to those around you. And isn’t it a great thing to help people feel seen and supported?

If you’d like to understand better ways to be an ally in your life, I’d encourage you to explore this allyship guide.

Feel free to explore our website to see how we make education relatable and inspiring through public speaking and program planning!

This blog was meant to add nuance to the topic of allyship. I recognize there are inherent privileges and oppressions people face that are inexcusably unjust. The intention of this blog was to help more people recognize how to hold more space in their lives to be open-minded to the struggles of those around them.

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