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#AmIQualified: Let’s talk about privilege in speech–language pathology

As clinicians—and humans—we have an obligation to examine our relationship to privilege and microagressions. 

December 1, 2020

​By: Dr. Kyomi Gregory, PhD, CCC-SLP
With: Meredith Harold, PhD, CCC-SLP & Vivian Tisi, MA, CCC-SLP

Maybe you’ve said the following:
“Where are you from? No, where are you REALLY from?”
“You speak English really well for a ______ person!”
“Can you teach me words from your native language?”
“What are you?”
“You don’t look ______.”
But let’s think again. 

What makes me assume I know your culture and who you are from visual appearance?
The previous statements are actually considered to be microaggressions. They send the message that an individual is “other”, “different”, or “less-than” in some way. Sue et al. (2007) identifies microaggressions as daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental insults that can either be intentional or unintentional, and that can impact clinical interactions between a clinician and client.

​So if you are thinking right now that you have said this to someone, remember that no good or bad binary exists when it comes to bias or racismWe are all a work in progress.
But as we move toward, e.g., being anti-racist, we must recognize that this type of growth is based on conscious efforts and actions to provide equitable opportunities for all people at the individual and systemic level. We can begin to act against racism by:

  • acknowledging our personal privileges,
  • confronting acts of discrimination,
  • and working to change our personal racial biases.

If you are looking to unpack your invisible knapsack of privilege see the work of Peggy McIntosh (1988) that is still relevant to what is going on today. In our field, a significant example is whiteness. According to Ebert (2013), white professionals make up the majority of speech–language pathologists in the United States. And Kohnert (2013) identifies privilege as the ability for an individual to benefit from the inequalities often faced by marginalized groups of the same social, political, financial, and educational circumstances; we must think on how whiteness plays into that. Some other useful resources to understand privilege also include:


“Wait—I’m a nice person. I have some privileges, sure. But life has been hard for me too, and I’m not sure there’s anything I really need to unpack. I know how to be nice to people. And it’s as simple as that.”

Keep in mind that your privileges are, by definition, woven into the very things that feel quite normal to you. They wouldn’t be privileges if you didn’t see them as default or just the way the world works. Just like the sun rises every day, along with it are the habits, structures, and privileges of yesterday. Ultimately, “being nice” won’t work when you’re also quite unaware. Instead, we must become aware of our own privileges in order to start to fully see how others are being discriminated against. And we can’t become aware of our privileges until we’ve tried purposefully examining them.

“I don’t really get what microaggressions and privileges have to do with one another. I can be privileged and not engage in microaggressions, right?”

Not really. Microagressions are the things that we say, do, or simply allow to happen when we haven’t spent enough time unpacking our own privileges or working on cultural humility. They travel hand-in-hand. The privileged person microaggresses. And they microagress usually without realizing it, or knowing the extent of damage they are causing to those they microaggress upon. We must become aware of how these statements or actions are not benign to those without the privilege.

Ultimately, as clinicians, being aware of privilege is a must—because collectively, when we’re not, our clients will have difficulty finding an SLP qualified to do the job right.

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