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Abdul-Hakim Shabazz: Are privilege and good ol’ networking different?

April 12, 2019

ShabazzA couple of news events have me thinking about this whole debate regarding “privilege.”

For example, celebrities and other wealthy people were indicted in a college bribery scam for allegedly paying a company to falsify information to get their kids into elite schools. And former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett was accused of filing false police reports regarding a hate crime. However, a new controversy has developed over the Cook County state’s attorney’s decision to not press charges.

I don’t have a problem going after people who commit fraud, but it brings up the bigger question about the new word of the day: “privilege.”

And just so we’re all on the same page, “privilege” as defined by the National Conference of Christians and Jews (NCCJ) means “unearned access to resources (social power) that are only readily available to some people because of their social group membership; an advantage or immunity granted to or enjoyed by one societal group above and beyond the common advantage of all other groups.”

I agree that, because of our respective social circles, we all get access to certain kinds of people and resources. I’ve spent my adult life involved in government, politics, broadcasting and the law. So, I have a vast network of friends and associates I can call on in those areas.

I have a niece who wants to go into politics, so I called a friend and got her an interview, and she worked her first political job last summer. Could I be accused of giving my niece an unfair advantage, or as the NCCJ would say, “unearned access” to a position? Was someone more qualified than she was? Maybe. But what I do know for sure is that she had one thing they didn’t: Uncle Abdul.

When it comes to other jobs, college admissions, you name it, there is probably going to be some element of “unearned access.” NPR recently spelled out numerous legal ways applicants can get unearned access into college.

Of course, I would just call it familiarity. Don’t we all use our connections to achieve our goals? Your buddy might share his company’s access to sports tickets, or your go-to restaurant host secures you a last-minute reservation. When your son or daughter nears high school graduation, you reach out to your alma mater to help the kid learn the ropes for university admission. Then, when it’s time for job hunting, you arrange for him or her to talk with your college roommate who is in charge of hiring at a good firm.

Even though we are “equal in the eyes of the law,” and justice might be blind, it isn’t cheap. And once again, connections can matter, but where does networking turn into “privilege”? Does that mean enough money to hire a high-powered attorney or knowing an attorney relative or family friend to mitigate a situation? You tell me.

Instead of listening to people complain about their lack of connections, we need to teach them how to build networks.

“But Abdul,” you might say, “what about the (fill in the blank) people who have (fill in the blank) and can get better (fill in the blank)?”

My response? “So what?”

More money. More family. More recognitions. More luck. All lead to better access to opportunities and possibly better outcomes.

And in other news, water is wet. Deal with it. Stop whining about what somebody else has and start building your own.

Privilege is only as good as the network that accompanies it.•

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Shabazz is an attorney, radio talk show host and political commentator, college professor and stand-up comedian. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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