Last year, we here at KQED Pop fell in love with Luna Malbroux, a comedian, diversity consultant, app creator, and also (possibly!) the love child of Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey who visited us on The Cooler and was later selected as one of KQED's Women to Watch.
Now, we're joining forces with Luna to bring you Mapping Privilege, a new monthly column exploring identity by talking with real people all across the United States.
Before the column's premiere, I caught up with Luna to hear more about the genesis of the project, where it's taken her, and whether she's had any Oprah "a-ha!" moments.
What inspired you to hit to the road and talk to strangers about identity and privilege?
Last year, I created a satirical app called EquiTable with a team of people for Comedy Hack Day, which uses real U.S. labor statistics about the gender and racial wage gap to determine how much an individual should pay for a dinner split among friends. Using "Affirmative Fractions" (comic George Chen brilliantly came up with that) was a really funny way to talk about the wage gap from a new angle. The project went pretty viral, and I saw in headlines and articles describing the app that people had very different ways of talking about "privilege." It gave me the urge to take stock of all the different ways people were viewing and seeing privilege, as a way to demonstrate that we are not having the same conversation.
I started the project in the final months of the election season, and the tension was palpable. I knew if I was really going to get a variety of perspectives about identity and privilege, I couldn't leave other geographic regions out. So I took to the road.
Where have you traveled for this project so far?
So far, Standing Rock, Billings, Denver, Wichita, Houston, Salt Lake City, Denver, Wichita, Los Angeles, Houston, Detroit, and Cincinnati, just to name a few.
What kind of people have you spoken to?
I tried to talk to people whose narratives you don't always hear about. For instance, within communities of color, there are varying levels of privilege based on skin tone, language, class, etc. And I feel like, overall, there has been a complete dismissal of people living with disabilities in the national conversation about privilege.
You’re a few months into Mapping Privilege. Have you had any Oprah-esque 'a-ha!' moments?
Driving across the country and seeing how homogeneous many cities (and even states) are, I began to really understand why people are having such a hard time understanding privilege. It's contextual. If someone is Mormon, and their whole town is also Mormon, it's harder to grasp the privilege of being within a religious majority because you're practically swimming in it. Just like if your whole town is white, and you're white, you are not seeing the larger context of what it means to have white privilege.
I've also learned how powerful it is to tell your story. I was surprised that so many people were willing to open up and be vulnerable with a complete stranger. I've found that if you're willing to give an empathetic ear, people are going to open up.
Considering your history as a diversity trainer, does the responsibility of being a go-to person for people hoping to better understand privilege or be better allies ever overwhelm you?
Absolutely. Sometimes I just want to relax and enjoy a night out, and inevitably something will happen. I'm then put in a position to really sit with someone as they struggle through understanding how their actions or words, regardless of their intent, can be hurtful. In my best moments, I can be the ideal listener, but I'm also human. Sometimes I am weary. But that helps build my empathy and understanding of how patience can run short when people have uncomfortable conversations. It keeps me off a high horse.
What would your advice be to someone who’s trying to get through to a friend or family member who isn’t as “woke" as they could be?
I would say don't worry too much about what to say -- worry about how you're listening. Be as curious as you can and ask questions. When people aren't "woke," often it's because they've had very few safe opportunities to be self-reflective. The scariest place can be one's own mind; a lot of people put up defense mechanisms that block them from understanding their own bias, because sitting with that truth can be hard and scary. However, I would always advise to make sure you're giving yourself a break too. Conversations can become really charged if you're trying to break through to someone who does not acknowledge your perspective, or even your humanity.
Check out the first installment of Mapping Privilege, featuring Skyler Cooper, a veteran, a Buddhist, a transgender pioneer in the arts, an activist and a filmmaker: