Talking Cultural Diversity

a discussion board for cultural and diversity issues by Thomas Kochman and Jean Mavrelis

Moments of Privilege

By Tatyana Fertelmeyster - 04.23.2012

I am in Paradise. I was officially welcomed to Paradise as soon as I got off my plane in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Actually, I am in a double Paradise considering that I am staying at a beautiful beach resort.

In a day or so this place will get busy with my colleagues who are getting together for the inaugural conference of the International Society for Diversity and Inclusion Professionals. And for a few days we will have passionate conversations about very important topics and rush to swimming pools at the end of the day to cool off and enjoy.

Swimming pools.

There is one right next to my building. I went there as soon as I dropped my bags in the room. I asked for a towel and got an uncomfortable explanation from a friendly young man at the counter that towels were only for red-level guests.

Red-level guests? It took a moment to compute.

A few minutes prior when I was checking in at the front desk a clerk put a blue bracelet on my wrist. It looks like something you get at the hospital or at the amusement park. This bracelet means that I am a guest at the resort. It means that I belong. I had no problem being marked as a part of the in group.

Now – here I am ready to jump into this enticingly turquoise water and being told that towels that are rightfully mine are at the main pool and that walking there along the beach will take me no time.

I am not “us” anymore.  I am now “them” or at least not “us enough”.

That does not feel right. I am about to get all righteous about it but my logical brain starts its boring reasoning with me.

It reminds me how flying here I enjoyed the fact that my frequent-flyer status with American Airlines gets me through a much shorter line at security.

But – I argue right back – they now started some new program that allows people to go through security even quicker and I have not had a chance to sign-up. That did not feel fair to stay in a short line and watch people walking through with no line at all. Here I thought I was in and I was not in enough, even there!

I came all the way to this Puerto Rican paradise to engage with my colleagues on issues of diversity and inclusion, power and privilege, differences and ways to bridge them. I came all the way here and brought with me an everyday and every minute reality of our relationship with privilege – now you have it, now you don’t.

I don’t like not having my privileges. At the same time I also have problems having privilege, since the nature of the beast is such that any moment I enjoy some kind of a privilege automatically means somebody else does not.

I need to clear my head around this.

I think I’ll go for a swim.

8 Responses so far

So glad you’re articulating what most (if not all) of us feel and can’t – or don’t want to – put words to. Keep us in the loop when you get out of the pool. I want to know where you go with this… I’m stumped, too.

Tatyana — enjoy the swim, let the thoughts of being “in” and “out” while you are still the same person flow with the water. Being aware of our privileges can be uncomfortable. Oh my gosh, do I have some responsibility??? What do I think of “privileged people?” Oh my, a good swim sounds delightful.

Enjoy Puerto Rico. I am eager to hear about this group which is meeting. Sounds like a group I would like to be a part of.


Hello Tatyana,
it is unfortunate that you have to experience the little categorizing of privilege and levels. Don’t let that interfere with your overall stay.
The airlines did announce this some time ago to sign up ahead of time. I received several messages. I guess at times we don’t read all emails send to us. However it is unfair to you if you can’t sign up right on place and get to experience the “quick get you through security”. Nevertheless, enjoy your time and inhale the warm air and get some relaxation out of the stay.

I loved your comments Tatyana. Funny how quickly we assume that privileges are rights…and how quickly we can go from being insiders to outsiders on a daily basis. My grandchildren taught me a term I love: “First World Pain”. I can hear them now: REALLY! Grandma–if you weren’t so privileged you wouldn’t even think about being first in line or having a towel–that is genuine “First World Pain”. Thanks for your reflections–and for sharing them with us. Love you!!

Thank you for reading and responding to my blog and thank you for a very practical reminder about the new TSA rules. My interest in the whole subject was more about self-observation and picking up my own reactions to these small moments of having or not having some kind of a privilege. Self awareness is an important part of what I teach and thus I need to keep my tools sharp and at use in my own life as well 🙂

You’d think a hotel would provide towels for all of their guests, but from what you’ve provided that’s not the case everywhere in the world. Sometimes it’s just uncomfortable to be given a color or a number that segregates you, even over something as small as towels for the swimming pool. It’s a tad late but I hope you enjoyed the swim.

Wow that is injustice, to be signeld out on any account. I understand sometimes people get privileges that others don’t to their financial situation or their class in societ but that doesn’t make it right. Something as simple as being denied a towel is absurd, especially when you were there on a diversity conference. Unbelievale. Im glad you still went for a swim, I hope it was refreshing. Thank you for aticulating your point so clearly.

Self-observation is very important, especially when it comes to diversity. If everyone would take the time to self observe every now and then maybe some misunderstandings could be avoided. One thing I have noticed while learning about diversity and specifically priveleges is that social class comes up a lot. I probably still have a lot to learn and hope I don’t offend anyone, but I get a little bothered when social class comes up regarding privileges. It seems that people want to even it out, but how would that be done? I am not wealthy by any means, in fact it is more common for my family to live month to month on a very tight budget. However, what we do have, we work extremely hard for, and I don’t want anyone thinking it is their right to take it from me, just because they might have less.

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