I remember being in college when the Black Lives Matter movement initially started to gain momentum across the country. My college held a symposium, meant to be a platform for conversation, following a peaceful protest on campus. I, and many others, went to the symposium. I was uncomfortable. I was angry. And quite frankly, I was offended.
I grew up in a disproportionately white area, where most families were low-income, and trauma was not an unfamiliar concept. I went to an almost all-white high school and can’t recall having any classes that addressed oppression or privilege. I, myself would have never used the word “privileged” to describe my life experiences.
Becoming comfortable with and acknowledging my privilege as a white, cis-gender, straight, female has not been an easy process. It took uncomfortable conversations, introspection, education, and an awareness of intersectionality to begin to understand the multiple dimensions of privilege and oppression, as well as the many systems that reinforce them in our society.
Intersectionality is that idea that we all have overlapping and multifaceted identities. It can include one’s race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, citizenship, level of education, etc. The combination of these intersectionality’s can help to identify the complexities of an individual’s experiences of oppression, discrimination, and privilege. It can be a helpful tool to understand the ways in which we may experience privilege in some aspects of our lives while experiencing discrimination in others. For instance, a white person who identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community may experience privilege based off the color of their skin, while simultaneously experiencing discrimination or oppression based off their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Recognizing how I’ve benefited from the privileges I have been afforded, simply based off aspects of my identity that I did not choose, have not worked to achieve, or was born with, was another challenging aspect of unpacking my privilege. It took me awhile to realize that having privilege does not mean that you haven’t experienced hardship, but it does mean that you have an unearned benefit or advantage based solely off your identity.
The recognition of these advantages comes with a need for accountability. This accountability requires you to acknowledge the ways in which you have unconsciously perpetuated oppression and benefited from or contributed to the systems that do as well. It is important to note that this accountability is not necessarily required to be accompanied by guilt. While you may not have asked for or worked to achieve the privileges you have, you can and should be asking yourself, “now that I am aware of this, how do I work to lessen or eliminate it?” We are all responsible for undermining the systems of oppression that exist in our society by refusing to live with unchecked or unacknowledged privilege.
Recent happenings have been a call to action. Now is a good time to educate yourself on these topics and explore the ways in which you can contribute to the dismantling of oppression in your life, your workplace, the systems you interact with, and within society at large. When doing so, it is critical to centralize and amplify the voices and experiences of people of color. As a white person, it is especially important to be mindful of this when doing anti-oppression work and advocating for change.
We all have an opportunity to facilitate change, now more than ever. As a teacher, how do you educate future generations on privilege and oppression? How do you help teach white people to center the voices and experiences of people of color? As an individual in a position of power or authority, such as the CEO of a company or a chief of police, how do you facilitate conversations and work to dismantle the white supremacy that exists within your workplace? How do you combat discrimination or create actionable steps to prevent racial injustice and systematic oppression? As an individual in a helping profession, such as the mental health field, how do you work to bridge the gap between the intersectionality’s of identity and the limitations that poses in accessing resources? How do you work to reach marginalized and underserved communities? As a person, how do you hold yourself and one another accountable? How can you center the voices of people of color?
This is a guest blog post from Chris Ware, a Sexual Assault Counselor/Advocate in Lebanon.