What do black eyed peas have to do with privilege?

What do black eyed peas have to do with privilege?

November 11, 2022
Leilani M. Brown

What do black eyed peas have to do with privilege?

I have been working with my clients to help them understand privilege and power and to think more broadly about how both elements can be an obstacle to inclusion and equity.  

Privilege exercises illustrate our many different starting points and levels of access; challenge assumptions and stereotypes; and help us appreciate the diversity of our individual backgrounds.

Many have heard of the privilege walk, an exercise often used to illustrate the same. It asks participants to step forward or backward based on their identity and life experiences.  For example, the instructions might say “If you have ever inherited real estate property, take a step forward.”  Or “If you have ever been followed around in a store due to your race, take one step back.”  At the conclusion of the exercise, despite having the same starting place, everyone is standing apart, some more widely than others.

Because that is privilege.  

For most participants, it is a very, very emotional exercise.

Because privilege is personal.

For a recent client, The Gibbes Museum of Art, the largest museum in the south and the only art museum in Charleston, South Carolina, my collaborators, and I altered the exercise.

Instead of doing a privilege walk, we placed black eyed peas in seagrass baskets.  Why these modifications?

To start, black-eyed peas are a staple on most southern tables, originating in West Africa and brought to this country by enslaved African people.  It’s tradition to eat them on New Year’s Day to ensure good luck for the coming year. (I always make them to mark the holiday!)

And the sweetgrass baskets are beautiful and are the oldest, longest West African art form in the United States.  (My company brand and icon borrow from a seagrass fanner that I have hanging in my office.)

For our exercise, the participants remained seated, mitigating potential mobility challenges and modeling inclusion for all abilities.  We agreed that 1) this would be a judgement-free space; 2) that we were learning together and 3) that by virtue of simply being part of the Gibbes community, we were all indeed privileged.

Then, we designed the questions and asked the participants to only take peas, rather than remove them from their growing collection.  Doing so ensured that everyone understood privilege to be individual and contextual.  And, as everyone in the room was indeed privileged, no one’s bag would be empty.

We went through the questions and then asked the participants to discuss it at their tables.  What were some privileges that you have never thought of before?  What question made you think the most? If you could add a question, what would it be? And how can understanding privilege expand inclusion and belonging here and elsewhere?

This powerful exercise was an important component of our workshop and, within the context of the entire learning session, created a great deal of discussion and enthusiasm.

Some are taking it back to their companies, families, and friends.  

Of that, we are incredibly proud.


Leilani Brown, LLC is a boutique consulting firm working at the intersection of strategy, culture, and the future of work.  The firm provides strategic consulting and advisory services to educational institutions, non-profit organizations, businesses, and boards.

• You can learn more about working with us here: leilanimbrown.com

• If you would like to demo the privilege exercise, please email leilani@leilanimbrown.com for the link and the password.

#CuriousLeilani #FutureofWork #Privilege #Inclusion #DEI


Leilani M. Brown

Founder & CEO