In our discussions on social justice and equity, privilege often takes center stage, yet its complexity is sometimes overlooked. A key element missing from these discussions is the recognition of privilege’s dual nature: the coexistence of earned and unearned elements. This nuanced understanding of privilege is crucial for fostering fair and inclusive environments. Through a personal story intertwined with the world of chess, we delve into the intricacies of privilege and propose a mindset shift in how we perceive and discuss it.

The Chess Journeys: A Tale of Privilege

Reflecting on my journey through the realm of chess offers a vivid illustration of the dual nature of privilege. My father played a pivotal role in nurturing my chess skills, not just through direct support but also by creating memorable experiences. He would pack the car with kids, bags, and even a TV with a Sega Genesis for entertainment, and we would embark on road trips to chess tournaments along the East Coast. Despite the strict rules, such as no eating in the car and making no stops, these trips were filled with laughter and bonding.

These chess adventures, however, were more than just fun excursions; they were manifestations of privilege. The ability to travel to tournaments, the guidance and supervision of my father, and the financial means to afford such trips are privileges that were afforded to me. These experiences were instrumental in amplifying my natural talents and deepening my passion for chess, leading to numerous victories in tournaments.

Unpacking the Layers of Privilege

The story of my chess journeys illustrates the interplay between earned and unearned privileges:

  • Unearned Privileges: Being born into a family with a supportive father and having the physical ability to travel and participate in tournaments.
  • Earned Privileges (for my father): The ability to drive us, take time out of his weekends, and manage finances to support our chess endeavors.
  • Intersecting Privileges: My natural talent for chess (unearned) fueled my dedication to learning and improving (earned), which, supported by my father’s sacrifices (his earned, my unearned), led to success in tournaments.

This complex web of privileges highlights the interconnectedness and intersectionality inherent in our journeys. My father’s earned privileges became my unearned ones, setting the stage for my achievements in chess. It’s a clear example of how life’s intricacies make it impossible to attribute success to merit alone.

Embracing the Complexities of Privilege

The narrative of my chess journeys sheds light on the nuanced reality of privilege. It’s a blend of what we’re born into and what we, or those before us, work for. Understanding this complexity is not about diminishing one’s achievements but recognizing the broader context in which they occur.

This perspective is vital in professional settings and broader societal discussions. It encourages empathy, promotes a more inclusive dialogue on social equity, and challenges us to reflect on our own privileges. By acknowledging the full spectrum of privilege, we can better appreciate the diverse paths individuals take and the various barriers they may face.

Conclusion: The Possibilities of Privilege

Did you earn everything you have in life? No. And that’s not a bad thing. Understanding privilege through the lens of both earned and unearned aspects offers a richer, more comprehensive view of its role in our lives and society. My chess journey, underpinned by both types of privilege, exemplifies the potential for privilege to be a force for growth, connection, and empowerment. By embracing the complexities of our own privileges, we can foster a more empathetic and inclusive environment where discussions on privilege lead to actionable insights for societal improvement.

Note: This article draws from ideas in Jason Browne’s upcoming book, “The Possibilities of Privilege,” which reimagines privilege as a tool for positive change. For those intrigued by the perspective shared here, we encourage you to spread the word and follow Browne’s work for deeper insights. Connect with him on LinkedIn at to stay updated and contribute to a meaningful conversation on leveraging privilege for societal benefit.

Written by : Jason Browne

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