114: Illuminating Invisible Privilege with Karen Pittelman (and Why She Gave Away Her $3 Million Trust At 24)

This is one of my favorite interviews, and a conversation that is crucial for understanding and revealing the hidden influences that shape many of our views on society, wealth and power. I have heard terms like white privilege (which applies to me), but I hadn't thought to look into the notion of invisible privilege until earlier this year. You may think it doesn't apply to you (as I used to), especially if you're not in the "Top 1%."

But as a recent Atlantic article revealed, The 9.9 Percent is the New American Aristocracy, privilege is something that affects more of us than we might immediately self-identify with, particularly for many who see themselves as part of the "middle class." (A necessary note: some of you may be in the Top 1%—and you're welcome here!—and some of you may be struggling to get by, and you're welcome here too).

After hearing it thrown around quite a bit in social change circles, I got curious. What does invisible privilege really mean? How does it affect me, and others like me? And how does it relate to broader social change? I'm so grateful for Karen Pittleman, who answers these questions with kindness, compassion, and clarity in this week's conversation. I can't wait for you to hear her story of giving away a $3 million trust fund when she turned 24 years old (now she's given over $13 million to activist-led funds), and her input on how we can all work together to redistribute wealth and power as we work toward a more just society.  

Check out full show notes from this episode with links to resources mentioned at PivotMethod.com/podcast/invisible-privilege.

Enjoying the show? Make my week by donating just $1 an episode at Patreon.com/pivot.

More About Karen Pittelman

Karen is the author of Resource Generation’s Classified: How to Stop Hiding Your Privilege and Use It For Social Change and co-author of Creating Change Through Family Philanthropy. In 1999, she dissolved her $3 million trust to co-found the Chahara Foundation, a fund run by and for low-income women activists in Boston. She’s been organizing people with class privilege ever since. She lives in Brooklyn where she works as a writer and a writing coach, and sings with her country band Karen & the Sorrows

Topics We Cover

  • What is class privilege and invisible privilege?
  • X-ray class decoder and the constellation of access
  • Typical bootstrap stories versus what gets left out
  • Her choice to give away her $3 million trust fund at just 24 years old
  • Karen's perspective that she still wasn’t giving away her class privilege; didn’t have loans, Ivy league education, connections, health care
  • Her hope is that by sharing her privilege, we can all raise more awareness, fight for a more just world
  • Am I going to be complicit with the system that created me, or find a way to align my life with my values? 
  • Exercise: try to zoom in even on one day and what you have to think about
  • Justifier archetype: saying things are fair, I should have more than other people (when they’re really not)
  • The most powerful organizing happens when you use the truth of where you are, going back to where you came from
  • Most philanthropy is still controlled by rich people; her commitment to give to activist-led organizations
  • The power to say where the money goes is just as much or as powerful as having the money.
  • Her perspective on giving to activist-led organizations: give the money and get out of the way
  • What does it mean to really redistribute wealth? 
  • Social justice is not a business; grassroots tactics means I trust the people who have lived experience
  • Stigmas of talking about wealth, serving and social justice from that point of privilege; addressing the fear of not wanting to offend others—give yourself some time to undo the (unconscious) training we get - including things like you always know best, you should be in charge, you should jump in - can make it harder to listen, step back, share your power or redistribute your power
  • If you think Karen’s a “bleeding heart liberal” - the only people who get angry and think I’m full of it are the people who have most in common with me
  • It’s easy to take this to heart and think it’s about you personally - make the shift to remember we’re tiny drops in bigger institutions and systems surrounding us, shaping our lives - so you can speak truth to power
  • Karen's definition of queer—I fall in love with people, not their gender identity

Illuminating Invisible Privilege with Karen Pittelman (and Why She Gave Away Her $3 Million Trust Upon Turning 24)

Listen below or on iTunesSoundCloud, YouTubeOvercastStitcher, or Google Play Music:

Check out other episodes of the Pivot Podcast here. Be sure to subscribe via iTunesGoogle Play or SoundCloud, and if you enjoy the show I would be very grateful for a rating and/or review! Sign-up for my weekly(ish) #PivotList newsletter to receive curated round-ups of what I'm reading, watching, listening to, and new tools I'm geeking out on.

Want to support the show and become a founding member of the Pivot Podcast community? Join us on Patreon here.