Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Recognizing Your Privilege Isn't Enough

Race relations in the US are on the front burner in our country again after the killing of Michael Brown. It seems like just yesterday when Trayvon Martin was killed. Why does it take people dying for our country to talk about race? How blind do we have to be to the struggles our friends and neighbors experience for it to take someone getting killed to discuss racism?

What can you do? What can I do, as a white, middle class, stay-at-home-mom to stand against against the systemic racism that still exists in our country? How can I be a friend to those who live this struggle every day?

1 - I can recognize my own privilege. This is a small but necessary first step. Hat tip to Sherry Payne for this definition at the International Babywearing Conference: "White Privilege (White Skin Privilege) - a set of societal privileges, existing in predominantly white societies, which benefit white people beyond what is commonly experienced by people of color." I have to be able to see what I'm working with and working against.

2 - I can engage in difficult discussions about race relations and privilege. If all I do is pat myself on the back or write a blog post whenever I recognize a privilege I have, I'm most likely part of the problem. Shying away from these conversations doesn't help anyone. One day, these difficult discussions are going to take place with my sons in regard to their own privileges. I can't shy away from that, either.

3 - I can listen. At the end of the day, this isn't about me. I'm not the person getting followed in the store. I'm not the naval officer who is accustomed to white women clutching their purses when he steps into an elevator. I am not the mom watching her son's character get maligned by the press after he is killed. I have to put my ego aside and just shut up so I can actually hear what my friends are saying.

4 - I can hold people accountable for racism & prejudice, including myself. I am active in several large online communities. I am a leader and educator with a local community organization. I have numerous opportunities to support my friends and stand up against the frequent & casual invalidation of their experiences. Holding myself accountable includes reading the literature and ample blog posts/opinion pieces regarding racism & race relations and not relying on my friends to be the spokespeople for their respective ethnicities.

5 - I can stop being defensive. It helps no one if I try to point out that I'm not a racist every time someone discusses how white people have treated them poorly. Refer back to #3. Chances are, if my friends didn't already trust me as much as possible, they wouldn't be talking to me about the aggressions, invalidations, insults, & assaults they experience regularly due to the color of their skin.

No, this list isn't exhaustive and it will most likely change as my kids get older and we enter a new phase in our family. However, it's what I can do right now, in my own community, to help level the playing field.

I recommend the following blog posts for more reading:
White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack
I Can't Believe I Now Have to Convince White People That I Like White People
Not Guilty = License to Kill
White Privilege & What We're Supposed to Do About It

I recommend the following twitter accounts for eye-opening, perspective-broadening posts. There are many, many others you can also find through these accounts:
#NMOS14 (Feminista Jones) - seriously, follow her this instant.
NPR's Code Switch
Gene Demby
Antonio French

What would you add to this list? Would you change anything? Do you agree or disagree?

Who would you add to the "must follow" list? What are other blogs or publications you would add to the "must read" list?

What are you doing in your community to fight the inequality that still exists?

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