Examining Privilege


Last week, REACH’s staff meeting featured a discussion on race and privilege, led by several staff members who had attended a workshop called “Undoing Racism” with the Peoples Institute for Survival and Beyond. In this week’s blog post, one of our Community Advocates (whose name we can’t share for confidentiality reasons) shares her thoughts:

In recent years I have been hearing more and more about privilege, specifically male privilege and white privilege, but had not been part of any productive conversation about privilege, racism and how to systemically undo both. That changed this past week when, as part of a staff meeting, we had an open and honest conversation about racism, privilege and how we are all impacted by those in many different ways. What I think was particularly special about this conversation was that we acknowledged that we all come from different backgrounds and have different experiences, but we all want to be part of a solution, not continue to perpetuate the uneven power dynamics, where the power has been gained and maintained through prejudice and racial discrimination. By the end of the conversation we were asked participate in an activity called head, heart, foot; where we share one thing we learned (head), one thing that touched or impacted us (heart), and one action step we’d like to take going forward (foot).

At the time I didn’t know what to say. I was still processing the entire conversation. One week later, I feel that I am still processing, but with a lot of personal reflection I feel that I have some clarity on how I would answer the Head, Heart, Foot activity.

HEAD: I learned a lot during this conversation, but I think the idea that stood out the most to me is that there is very little genetic variability between all humans. 0.02%, basically 0%. That is the average variability in the DNA makeup of all human beings. That variability can differ due to the impact of different geographic conditions on the human body and its need to adapt over time, but generally speaking there is about a 0% difference between all human DNA, yet we are not treated or respected as being so genetically similar. This was fascinating because I feel that institutionalized racism is based on the belief that certain races or ethnicities are genetically, scientifically superior than others which is why those races (white) “deserve” to be in positions of power.

HEART: I am a big, emotional feeler. I try more often than not to hide those feelings and think logically, make rational decisions using my brain and not make any decisions with my heart; however, with this conversation it was extremely difficult to do just that. I grew up in a middle class, suburban, white family. I was taught by my parents that I could be anyone that I want to be, and do anything that I want to do. That I would succeed in life if I stayed authentic and true to who I am, and worked hard to achieve the goals I set out for myself. I never realized what a “privilege” it was to do just that; to be myself and to work hard would mean that I would be happy. To be myself means that as a white female, my voice COULD be heard and most likely WOULD be heard.  To be myself means that there are countless open doors and opportunities out there for me, and I never have to question if my race is going to limit or impact that in any way. The realization that just because I am white, I have been afforded so many opportunities even if I haven’t quite earned them really impacted me.  Those feelings that I mentioned earlier, the ones I try so hard to hide, came bubbling to the surface when I got home from work later that day. At the time it seemed like I went through every emotion all at once, but taking a step back and reflecting about my thoughts that night I definitely felt sadness, then a mixture of anger and frustration and finally hope.  While wanting a space to address each of those feelings, I think that the one I want to take with me moving forward is the feeling of hope. I can use the anger, sadness and frustration to fuel my motivation to figure out what my action steps will be.

FOOT: I feel that this is the hardest part. What is my action step?  First off, I am beyond grateful to work for an organization that has given people the space to have this conversation, but to also foster a sense of community and trust so we can be open and honest with one another. I think that this conversation has also given me the opportunity to reflect on how I currently advocate for survivors within the different systems. What am I doing now that is helpful and what can I do to be more helpful? How can I be more mindful and intentional with my words and actions to break down barriers survivors may be facing, whether it’s because of institutionalized racism that is making it difficult for someone to receive much deserved and needed resources and services or whether it is because of past experiences that inhibit a survivor to reach out to certain systems and services?

I’m not sure what the solution to fixing white privilege and ending racism is. I wish it were as simple to say “I’ve got it! I have the solution, all we have to do is X, Y and Z”, but it’s not. I think from here on out, I will be more mindful about my presence in difficult conversations, I will try to challenge people to recognize their own privilege and I will continue to advocate for survivors to the best of my ability.