Being privileged posted on 12 May 2024

Today is mother’s day in the Netherlands (and in a few other countries but not all!) so I thought it would be appropriate to reflect a bit on being privileged and being thankful to my mom (and my family in general).

A few years ago, I was part of a team offsite at Google where we were going through ice breaker questions/activities. One of the activities was about answering yes/no questions by stepping in/out of a circle. One of the questions was “Do you consider yourself to be privileged?”

I stepped in the circle (as did a few other coworkers) – meaning I was answering “yes, I consider myself to be privileged”. A few people were surprised because they knew about some of our backgrounds.

In my case I grew up in the French countryside. My parents immigrated to France because of the war in Vietnam and were neither rich nor wealthy by any means. I still do consider myself privileged because:

  • I never went to bed hungry or without a roof – I still vividly remember my dad telling me that I never once knew what being hungry meant or having a feeling of food insecurity.
  • I had a stable home with supportive parents – we didn’t constantly move around and they always encouraged me in my studies/work/life.
  • I had a big brother who carved the path to engineering school/computer sciences – it was much easier for me to be aware of these opportunities.
  • As much as my parents never forced me to have straight As at school or do extra homework, they understood the importance of education – they always had me finish my homework before going outside to play.
  • I’m a man – there are things I never had to deal with/experience that my wife/sister/mother had to

I didn’t always feel privileged – growing up, I actually thought I was under privileged since my family wasn’t rich nor highly educated. With time (and through meeting more people), I realized that many people never had the opportunities I had.

This is where being privileged doesn’t mean you had a life easier than everybody else but that you had opportunities that some didn’t have. My take is that everybody working in the tech industry was privileged in some ways – if you think carefully about it, many people never had a chance to get into the tech industry since you need a computer in the first place.

Last but not least, self reflecting on one’s privilege is a way to become more humble – what seems obvious to us might not be for others who had a different path in life before.

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