:: to the teeth ::   thoughts on social justice, medicine, race, hope and beats
"Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.
On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing." :: Arundhati Roy ::
"The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any." :: Alice Walker ::
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
let's talk about what it means to be an ALLY.
PART 1 – Privilege and Internalized Superiority
i'm not talking about war-time alliances, i'm talking about the role of professionals and white people in social justice work.
you have to start with the truism - "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." sit with that for a bit because it will come back to bite you hard if you ignore it, to the point where your dreams and desires will implode on themselves and you will think it the result of incompetence or the petty frustrations of the people you are working with. I can guarantee that it is only the reflection of your own ego projection being rejected by intelligent, experienced human beings who are seeking what you claimed to be seeking – a world where we are all equally valuable.
to avoid such a quandary, along with good intentions, you need consciousness of your “privileges” and of your (likely unconscious) “internalized superiority complex.” if you haven’t studied racism and how racism works, this might be confusing vocabulary. take an “undoing racism” training to learn more.
here are some not-so-subtle symptoms of internalized superiority as they are expressed in social justice movements.
1. every document produced and every tactic chosen has to be approved by you down to the syntax and grammar. likely you consider that everything produced by your team is a direct reflection of you, and you want to carefully control your public image.
2. you take every negotiation and creation opportunity offered to you by the opposition even if you are too busy/overwhelmed. likely you don’t feel that anyone else has the skill to do the job correctly.
3. group decision-making is fine as long as you agree but if the group makes a decision different from your own you have the (perceived) ability not only to ignore the decision but to ignore the group as you continue to create reality with the opposition. note that anyone can disagree with a decision, but not just anyone would think that they had the power to move an organizing process forward by themselves. likely you think that the group is misguided, unsophisticated or out of touch and you don’t want to waste the opportunity to make some important changes. consider perhaps that those changes might really be compromises or less important than other factors that you are ignorant of, or simply that folks can see you better than you see yourself and aren’t about to endorse your role as the great white man coming to save the poor indigenous people. that pattern of history is old, too old to recreate again.
4. you participate in more meetings and "donate" more time to the cause. be careful with this one. you can start to feel like you care more or are more dedicated. likely the reality is that other non-professionals in the group have pressing home and/or financial situations that preclude them from putting in as much time. from a surface perspective it can start to create guilt in those who cannot participate as much (we all love to feel guilty, especially those involved in social justice) and give undue voice to the person who is "over-participating." this is a tricky one because the goal is not to work less or do less than you can. people are dying out there, do what you can. but the group, and especially you, the privileged one, needs to be conscious of this as privilege. pure and simple.
these fairly benign looking symptoms portent serious conflict and can fracture years of work at critical stress points when success seems like it is just a breath away. I know these symptoms because they have existed in me to some degree and I’ve seen them play out in other white professionals over the years. the contrast of styles is striking. the antidote is either an empowered team that has clear boundaries and roles so that us white professionals don’t fall trap to our own foibles (that’s the human model) or it is an individual who can continue to see the difference between personal power/privilege and personal liberation/service (the humble model).
let me try to explain a bit more.
what is privilege? it is advantage. given an equal world, there would still be privilege. I’m tone deaf, I don’t have a single musical privilege afforded to me by the creator. but I’m fairly good at understanding patterns of behavior that help me help my patients with their illnesses, which is a good step up on the road to being a doctor.
what is privilege in an unequal world? privilege is the accumulated advantages (over centuries) given to certain people based on where they were born and what their skin looks like. privileges are fiercely guarded and often, most of us take them for granted as gifts of god. they are gifts of man. how many fairly smart white people are doctors and brilliant Native Americans instead are spending their lives refuting prejudice and protecting their communities from further assault? I’ve met too many talented people of color whose career decisions are shaped not by a neutral assessment of job satisfaction but by the stark awareness of perpetuated injustice and their dedication to the transformation of social power relationships – a much more challenging job than becoming a doctor.
in conclusion, there is a line that we, as professionals (white or otherwise), should never cross – do not take control of an organizing process. participate, grow and learn, challenge those around you, be an ALLY. do not put yourself into a position where every decision has to flow thru you, where you feel personally affected by each word in every document or action created by your team. it is not about you. each person will have an area of expertise. limit your “micro-control” to the aspects of the work where your input in vital. if you believe that everything needs your input, then examine that belief. it’s the place to start to understand your unconscious superiority complex, and that is then another step along the way to liberation.
posted by andru | 11/02/2005 10:00:00 PM | |
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