What I Get To Do Today

Alton Sterling was shot and killed by the police yesterday. There are already reports trying to justify why he was killed in the parking lot of a convenience store in Baton Rouge, LA. Those reports don’t matter to me because it’s like justifying the police’s ability to act as judge, jury, and executioner. Which, no matter what the flaws are within our criminal justice system, is not how any of this works. 

Mr. Sterling’s death reminds me of the things I get to do today that he won’t. I woke up this morning to shower irritated with myself for not going to bed earlier. I made breakfast with my wife and then she dropped me off at the Metro so I can go to work. 

I get to be cranky with people on the metro and hold the door for others. I get to talk with people and interact about whatever we want to talk about. I get to move freely through DC without someone’s negative assumptions of me impacting my life in a meaningful way. I get to be upset by the heat in DC and wipe my brow of sweat.

I will get to exist without anyone diving into my history. No one is doing a deep dive into my past to try to justify my death. I get to sit and type this reflection on my feelings in reaction to Mr. Sterling’s death. I get to about how his murder is connected to the murder of my own father.

I get to write letters to the Department of Justice for them to investigate new ways of training the police departments across the US and the federal law enforcement agencies. I get to ask Lorette Lynch to consider addressing implicit bias in the justice system that disproportionately imprisons and kills people of color across the US.

I get to exist.
I get to live.
I get to feel.
I get to think.
I get to challenge.
I get to push.
I get to question.
I get to be me in ways so many people across the world are denied.
I have full access to my humanity and life today. Alton Sterling does not. We all need to consider how we deal with that information. I’m torn up about it and I feel the need to do something about it because another life has turned into a hashtag. We need to consider how to change the roots of how our civil servants work for us. We need to consider how our systems don’t serve us all in the same way. We need to accept criticism and recognize that nothing is free from criticism and dissent. Expressing dissatisfaction with the way things are is one of the foundations of our society.  

I’m dissatisfied and I’m telling people about it. What are you doing today?

Tomas Young’s War – Book Review

Book cover of Tomas Young's warI recently finished reading Tomas Young’s War by Mark Wilkerson. It’s the story of a veteran of the 2nd US war in Iraq who came home paralyzed from the chest down. It’s about his adjustment to living with his paralysis, his activism against the war, his treatment at VA hospitals, his friendships with musicians like Eddie Vedder and Tom Morello, and the other things that life threw at him.

One of the first things that struck me about his story is that he originally enlisted in order to earn money to go to college because he didn’t feel that he could manage the massive debt that comes with a college degree. I connected with that logic due to my own experiences with finances and working with students who also struggle through dealing with the immense expense of attending college. But what stuck out to me is that enlisting in the military felt like the only option for Tomas to pursue higher education and that option (after a false start and reenlistment after 9/11) led to his paralysis. Which reinforces my thoughts about the ways in which we push working class and poor folks into the military with financial incentives so they can fight wars which were declared by people who would never have to make that decision.

Tomas’ was a bit of a troublemaker while in the Army and didn’t understand why he was being deployed in Iraq when Al Qaeda was in Afghanistan. That streak of questioning authority continued right up until his death in 2014 and is on full display in this book. He found a voice in organizing against the war which was documented in the film Body of War. Tomas was active in the organization Iraq Veterans Against the War. He made appearances at public events and even held a position in the leadership of the organization.

We see a glimpse of the strain that returning from war with a life changing injury has on not only the survivor of the injury, but loved ones and family members. Tomas’ journey throughout the book is full of personal struggles and pain as one would expect, but the book explores a little about the anguish that families go through with a family member’s injury. Tomas’ mother received several mixed messages from the Army about the severity of the injury and did not find out where he was being treated until a week after he had been being treated.

Just as Tomas was living on his own and understanding how to best live with his paralysis as paraplegic he has an incident with his VA issued manual wheelchair as he was getting into a van. As he leaned forward to get into the van, he had a spasm in his abdomen which pushed him backward on the ramp and flipped his chair. Through that injury he becomes quadriplegic and has to relearn how to do everything.

1415684954906_wps_32_PORTLAND_Ore_Nov_10_UPI_TThe story’s emphasis on Tomas’ confrontations with the Veteran’s Administration gives us a brief glimpse into the poor treatment our veterans receive once they return from war. Which should light a fire under any of us to push our representatives to increase funding and improve the conditions of care our veterans receive. Or at the very least push us to consider which of our candidates available to us on the ballots this election cycle have supported veterans’ care in the past. In addition to the VA, the lack of reintegration that Tomas received even as a severely wounded veteran was shocking makes one rethink how much we money and energy we put into turning civilians into soldiers and how much more we could do to assist our soldiers as they transition back to civilian life.

This book is extremely compelling and draws you into the story of Tomas in his early days. When Tomas is on the page it feels as though you’re hearing directly from him. The author focuses on Tomas’ story and even when we’re hearing from Tomas’ friends and family it is all focused on Tomas and who he is personally and what he means to those close to him. The story represents Tomas’ voice and his opinions. It serves beautifully as a biography of his life and the impact that he’s had on the world and then extends that impact because more people will hear about Tomas through the book. For that impact I applaud the author and highly recommend this book for all of us to understand the full costs of the wars outside of the tremendous financial expense. Because it’s not just the final dollar amount spent on the budget (which has had it’s own impact on all of us) but it’s the ways in which our veterans aren’t fully treated for their ailments whether it’s PTSD or a physical injury. It’s the ways in which our veterans aren’t reintegrated in ways that they could be.

The book doesn’t specifically mention a lot of this and there is no specific call to action but the way in which the story is told should inspire movement in the name of Tomas Young’s work.

Whose shoulders do I stand on?

When I reflect on where I am as a person, as an educator, as an activist, and as a soon-to-be-parent I know that there are a lot of people who have helped me exist where I am currently. There are people who have taught me important concepts & skills, people who challenged me to approach things a little differently, people who expanded my consciousness and knowledge, people who were examples for how to succeed in ways that I admire. I wouldn’t be the person that I am without them.

We all have these people in our lives. Whether direct relationships or indirect. We have partners, friends, supervisors, mentors, parents, and neighbors who have influenced us positively. We have public figures, entertainers, educators, speakers, and authors who have challenged us and pushed us. I don’t think enough about who those people are and how they’ve influenced me and I don’t think often enough about how we should demonstrate gratitude to them.

I recently thought more about this when listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Denzel Washington is the Greatest Actor of All Time. Period. One of the hosts, either Kevin Avery or W. Kamau Bell, mentioned in an episode from almost a year ago about the reason they were doing the podcast is because they want to be able to tell Denzel Washington (and other people) how much they admire him before something happens to him or he passes away. And I think we all need to do that more. Whether in a public manner (like a blog post) or through an email or gift or some personal gesture.

For me, this reflection and this demonstration of gratitude is personal so I won’t be shouting anyone out today. There are many people I feel grateful for being in my life. There are people who simply took the time to sit and have coffee or lunch with me. There are people who were supervisors and teachers and imparted so much. There are family and friends who challenge me to push my perspective beyond what I think I know. There are authors and entertainers and public figures who have written or spoken or acted in ways that I admire and helped me shift my own beliefs and actions toward their example. These are the people whose shoulders I stand on. These are the people without whom I wouldn’t be who I am.

One of the easiest things that I can do to show appreciation is send a message to those who have helped me through the years. Whether they are personal contacts or public figures, I can find a way to contact them to demonstrate gratitude. Another way is to live within their example and pass along the inspiration they’ve shared with me to my own sphere of influence. Then I can recognize that their influence is being passed along through me. I can recognize that the conversation that I may be having with a student or mentee or peer is inspired by their work and that our interbeing is stronger as a result of learning from them that I’m passing along to another.

I firmly believe that we all need to (myself included!) pass along gratitude to our inspiration both directly through tokens and messages of gratitude. But we also can embrace the concept of indirect gratitude through sharing their wisdom with someone else and spreading the word/knowledge of what we have gained so that others may also grow through their work.

Experiential Facilitation

Students learn more fully when they are able to engage with each other and have the ability to voice their own experiences as a means of peer learning. This means principles of democratic education are the foundation to effective learning in trainings, workshops, classrooms, and any communities of learning. I recently led a workshop for my colleagues about how we can do just that.

Chart depicting Kolb's Cycle of Experiential Learning - At the top is concrete experience, to the right is reflective observation, on the bottom is abstract conceptualization, and to the left is active experimentation.I currently work with students who are serving in internships while they make
meaning of their experience through the lens of their future career, so I combined the concepts of democratic education with Kolb’s Cycle of Experiential Learning for the workshop. I built the workshop around discussing the experiences both good and bad we’ve had in group dialogues. We then discussed what the outcomes of those experiences were, what we can learn from them, and how we can use those experiences to improve our own skills and planning.

Once we were able to conceptualize why classroom activities were successful or needed improvement we shifted gears to discuss how we can use our experiences, concepts of democratic education, and Kolb’s theory to add new elements to our existing workshops so we can encourage more the peer learning that is valuable to our students. We then discussed the experimentations we came up with to improve peer learning in the current workshops and took notes so that we could incorporate our ideas in the future. The workshop was designed to use Kolb’s model to conceptualize our own learning about facilitation as a framework for how we could use the same method with our students to encourage more peer learning. The workshop was successful in implementing this concept and highlighted new ways for us to proceed in workshop design and implementation.

#GivingTuesday for Racial Justice

60 years ago today Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Her actions help kick off the Montgomery bus boycott, a nonviolent campaign to challenge segregation. Her actions defied the culture of white supremacy 60 years ago and you can do something much less challenging to stand against white supremacy today by joining Showing Up for Racial Justice as a sustaining member.

Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) is an organization of white folks who are dedicated to conspiring with people of color to act against white supremacist culture in the US. We do this through a variety of means including are teach-ins, direct action protests, and civil disobedience. There are chapters located throughout the US.

Today SURJ is launching a membership initiative. Please join me in becoming a sustaining member of SURJ by donating a minimum of $5 per month. We also ask that SURJ members make a matching monthly donation to a people of color led organization of your choice.

As a member of SURJ you get to enjoy:

  • A well-resourced, kick-ass SURJ doing what we do – organizing tens of thousands of white people for real, meaningful racial justice victories.
  • The chance to be part of building a powerful multi-racial majority to challenge racism in all its forms.
  • The opportunity to show up, shoulder to shoulder with millions of other white people taking collective action for racial justice.
  • Invitations to leadership development opportunities
  • Twice yearly updates
  • Support from SURJ staff to meaningfully participate in campaigns and projects
  • Connections to our extensive network of chapters, affiliates and local leaders (100+ chapters and affiliates and growing!)
  • Opportunities to build deep and lasting connections with other members, through in-person meetings and trainings, meet ups at conferences, and online.

If you’re a white person looking to take action in supporting racial justice then I encourage you to join me in being a member of SURJ. The path doesn’t always seem clear for white people to stand against white supremacy but we make the road by walking and you can start your journey by becoming a member and joining a chapter today.

Any questions or comments about membership in SURJ? Leave them below!

Showing Up for Racial Justice in Student Affairs

Inaction is action in affirmation of oppression and we need to continue that work or start it now. I’ve said it isn’t easy and I know that I don’t have all the answers. But as Paulo Freire and Myles Horton’s book said, “we make the road by walking.” Let’s get started.

chatThere is a lot going on in the US right now about race and racism that is rooted in white supremacist notions. This action is both the overt actions of the KKK, Oath Keepers, the III%ers and covert actions that systemically exist around us such racist microaggressions. If you’re an educator of some kind I hope you’ve heard of that cover white supremacist issues such as microaggressions, white privilege. I hope you’ve heard of the decisive actions of #ConcernedStudent1950 at the University of Missouri. I hope you’ve heard of the students at Yale (and also questioned the thought pieces that spark resistance to student activism). I hope you’ve heard of the students arguing that #BlackBruinsMatter at UCLA. And the actions that many other students are taking across the country.

It’s important that we know these stories and we support the students who are seeking change. It’s important that we reflect on what we’re co-conspiring with. We can choose to conspire with the status quo and say nothing. We can choose to ignore the threats that are posed against our students and say you can make a choice not to come to class if you don’t feel safe. We can choose to tell people that they’re being too sensitive. Or we can choose to acknowledge the patterns of systemic white supremacy and provide space for students to take care of themselves.

All of these movements are steeped in resistance to white supremacy. They’re tied to #BlackLivesMatter and fights for civil rights and justice that have occurred throughout our history. They reflect the courageous activists who came before them and their co-conspirators.

As educators in student affairs we have to realize that there is no neutrality. We cannot make a decision that does not declare allegiance to something. Inaction in the face of oppression is action in favor of oppression. Suggesting that we “wait it out” or hoping that climates get better are direct inaction that affirm the status quo.

Last night I sat in on a conference call with white activists who are all affiliated withA hand painted blue banner reads "Make no Peace with Oppression" Showing Up for Racial Justice (an organization that I would call myself a member of and the origin of the title of this post). We heard from an activist near the border in Arizona who is organizing against militia activity who have taken it upon themselves to guard the border. We heard from another activist in Arkansas who is organizing community discussions (and helped start The Other Arkansas) that offer alternate narratives about history of southerners such as the Southern Tennant Farmer Union. We heard from another activist who is working with the Rural Organizing Project in Oregon who has faced pressure and resistance from white supremacist groups including being followed and death threats.

I mention both the actions of students of color across the US as well as the work of white activists across the US because they are intrinsically interwoven. The work and leadership of the students of color are how we as educators (particularly white educators) demonstrate support for striking out against racist practices to change the nature of our institutions. The work of the white activists I mentioned are examples of white people directly addressing white supremacy in their communities. They are building the critical consciousness of their neighbors and create changes in their communities whether that’s addressing the racist violence of self-proclaimed border militias or leading teach-ins about Natasha McKenna.

As educators I believe that we’re responsible for creating a climate in which all of our students can be engaged in a learning environment because we create that learning environment. This means that we need to address issues if not all of our students feel that they can be involved in their learning community. This means that weneed to address white supremacy which isn’t easy. It’s uncomfortable and I don’t have all the answers but speaking out is one of the first steps. We should ally ourselves with organizations who are working against racism whether that’s a local SURJ affiliate or another 51Ee7sb9NNL._SX293_BO1,204,203,200_racial justice organization. We need to ask ourselves difficult questions about our practices and find ways to incorporate social justice into our work as educators. We need to ask more from our professional associations. We need leadership and demonstrated action from ACPA, NASPA, ACUHO-I, ACUI, etc. on addressing these issues within our profession as it’s written into the values of most of our associations. We need to start having conversations in places that we already have conversations like #SAchat and Facebook groups. We need to organize these thoughts collectively and I would argue that we need to start sharing ways that we’re addressing white supremacy and oppression on our campuses through social media. I suggest using #SURJinSA to share these stories.

As I’ve said before slightly differently, inaction is action in affirmation of oppression. We need to continue that work of standing against oppression or start it now. I’ve said it isn’t easy and I know that I don’t have all the answers. But as Paulo Freire and Myles Horton’s book said, “we make the road by walking.” Let’s get started.

Social Justice in Student Affairs

What happens when we consider that we are all responsible for creating an inclusive community on our campus for all of our students? This inclusive campus needs to be mindful of the ways in which different dimensions of identities are impacted by our work.

We know that Social Justice is a process and a goal as established in Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice. “The goal of social justice education is full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs. Social Justice includes a vision of society that is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure” (Adams, Bell, and Griffin; 2007). As student affairs educators our main focus is to create a campus community for our students and I posit that using this definition of Social Justice should be a foundation for establishing that community. This means a lot about how foundation of our communities need to start, but I’m focusing on how we as professional educators need to interact with this definition and the shaping of our community.

Many of us in Student Affairs think of social justice education (SJE) in a limited way. We think of SJE as specific trainings or workshops. We think of programs where we invite speakers to campus who talk about privilege, power, and oppression. We think about our colleagues who do this work daily in multicultural affairs offices (and we often put the brunt of the work of creating inclusive campuses on our multicultural affairs colleagues). We do a disservice to SJE (and our students, colleagues, and selves) when we think of it in such limiting terms because it’s much much more than one time workshops. It needs to be an integrative part of how we operate in all of student affairs.

In addition to the limited scope of Social Justice Education, when we do engage we generally focus on interpersonal dynamics such as microaggressions but we don’t talk about the systems of oppression that create the culture in which we all internalize and perpetuate microaggressions without even noticing. We talk with students about being “inclusive” (which has really just become addressing language, which is not bad but limited) but we don’t talk about how to avoid recreating the oppressive systems of power and privilege on our campuses whether that be through roommate mediations, program planning, orientation sessions, or relationship development.

While I do not disagree that SJE exists within specific trainings about privilege and oppression we can’t let that be the only time when we discuss privilege and oppression. We frequently think that SJE is going to happen for us and don’t take the time to engage in the difficult work of challenging discrimination and oppression on our campuses. We don’t think about the procedures we have in place and how they impact marginalized students in our communities. We usually tell our students to attend programs about black history month or women’s history month or pride week on our campuses but we don’t go ourselves. We promote programs during heritage months but we don’t talk about real life issues as they happen. We frequently miss opportunities to have difficult conversations with our students, colleagues, and selves based on the events that are occurring around us such as the #BlackLivesMatters movement, the Chapel Hill Shooting, the huge number of Trans* women of color who have been killed in 2015, and the movement for undocumented student support.

In addition to missing more obvious opportunities to learn, I have always mentally compartmentalized the different parts of my job. Until recently, student conduct meetings operated in a mental silo separate from planning programs. I think this reflects how we go through training as professionals. We don’t talk about how the coaching skills that we use in a conduct meeting should (and do!) directly relate to how we develop the learning outcomes for programs. We just have a session on the schedule that shows us how to use the conduct software and what we legally have to cover in that conduct meeting to make sure that due process is met (this is not to dismiss the importance of due process). We don’t always talk as much about what the developmental conversation should look like and how that thought process should mirror what we do when planning for programs or how we supervise staff. How does the intersection of my identities influence my interactions with my students? Am I aware of my internalized biases? How do I continue to learn about those internalized biases and notice when they occur? And this is just on the individual level, there is more work to be done across our divisions and departments.

I would like to challenge all of my colleagues working in student affairs across the world to consider how we can integrate social justice education values into our day to day work. This means a wide range of concepts from interrupting microaggressions that we witness and perpetuate (especially when they’re environmental microaggressions) to recognizing and changing systemic issues that create disadvantages for our students. One activity in particular that I was recently introduced to through Vernon Wall and Kathy Obear was to think about a particular service or program and consider how it does or does not serve particular identities. For example, consider an orientation session. How does that session serve all of the students who attend? Does the skit speak to a wide variety of the experiences of students on campus or just those in dominant identities? How does the registration cost impact students from a lower socio-economic background? How are undocumented students supported? What about Trans* students and their assignments in overnight housing? Without asking important questions about our services and programs we recreate systems of oppression on our campuses.

What happens when we consider that we are all responsible for creating an inclusive community on our campus for all of our students? This inclusive campus needs to be mindful of the ways in which different dimensions of identities are impacted by our work. We cannot continue to plan our programs and services in a “colorblind” manner in which we don’t consider all of the dimensions of identities. Without this important change we continue to recreate oppressive systems that exist throughout our society on campus.

How can we collaborate across departments and divisions to create campus communities that are inclusive for all of our students, faculty and staff? How do we ensure that we honor the individual experiences of everyone while also understanding the systemic issues that influence those experiences? I don’t have all of the answers, but I believe it starts with having these conversations. It starts with asking critical questions about our services and programs. It starts with staff and faculty analyzing their own identities and internalized biases. It continues with cross-functional teams that assist in training colleagues in cultural competence. This is important work that is relevant to everyone on our campuses.

How else do you think we can build inclusive communities on our campuses?

Brief #PrivilegeStories

These are all tiny pieces of my life that only stand out to me because I think about them, but they highlight the differences in experiences that I am afforded based on my identities. They’re invisible until you speak about them.

Over the course of the last few year my personal life has hit a fairly large milestone. I got engaged and then married to a wonderful woman. Part of that process throughout and after the planning of our wedding pointed out some pretty large privileges that I hold, particularly as a heterosexual cisgender male in the US. And as part of one of my promises to myself, I thought I would briefly share some of the things that have been pointed out to me as privileges that I hold through my #PrivilegeStories series.

The first one that I think of is that I had no hesitation (other than keeping my life private) from sharing my engagement at work or when I’m out in the world. I have no reason to believe that sharing that I was engaged and now married to a woman would be detrimental to my life. I have no reason to believe that having pictures of myself and my partner(wife) on my desk would lead to any negative issues with students or colleagues.

In addition to talking about the engagement and wedding at work, we did not worry about how a vendor may react to our relationship because it can be viewed as “typical.” We are a white, heterosexual, cisgender couple. We don’t break any expectations that our vendors may have before they see us. While working with our vendors we didn’t have to look to any list to let us know if they would be ok working with us. We easily assumed that they would be fine and accept us as customers.

The second piece of this is around my wife’s decision about her name. She holds that a unique part of her identity is in her maiden name which I fully support. So as she continues to make her decision she has felt pressure from friends, acquaintances, and other people about making a decision which is not something that I have had to go through. She also, once a decision is made, may have to go through name changing processes that I do not have to consider at all. I have not been asked at all what my name will change to because people can assume that I won’t change my name.

These are all tiny pieces of my life that only stand out to me because I think about them, but they highlight the differences in experiences that I am afforded based on my identities. They’re invisible until you speak about them. They must be pointed out so that we know what happens to ourselves and how privileges warp our experiences without us noticing. We have to understand these privileges to understand the oppression that folks with subordinated identities face because if we don’t understand the privileges then we can’t see the full problem.

Unproductive Resistance

If we are so stuck to what we believe to be true we can never learn anything. Are you engaging with the material negatively or positively?

When I’m facilitating a training, I frequently provide examples of whatever it is that I’m talking about. So if I’m talking about microaggressions based on race, I may provide some examples that I’ve overheard or witnessed (Where are you really from?) Another example that I’ve used to talk about privilege is the relative privilege that faculty have over staff at an institution of higher education. I think examples of concepts (in this case, a specific microaggression) highlights the reality of the concepts that I’m training on. It allows people to “see” a real life example and use that to fully understand the concept.

That’s the purpose anyway.

Most of the time it goes to plan with some quick conversation on the validity of the example. Sometimes the dialogue goes completely off the rails because people apply their critical lens to the example instead of using the example to critically consider how their experiences or thinking may be limited and then to learn using the example. Those are the times that I want to discuss for a brief moment.

If we are so stuck to what we believe to be true we can never learn anything. That means that hearing an example of a microaggression or privilege and then trying to find ways to dismantle the example is avoiding learning. What it does is misdirect the conversation to finding ways in which the example is somehow flawed. What this means is that we’re applying the same knowledge or lens (which could be inherently flawed or informed through privilege) that we’ve always had to the example instead of understanding how the example can change our perspectives and knowledge.

I’ve seen this play out in conversations where a person telling a story about how they’ve been the target of a microaggression is told that must not be what the other person meant. Which essentially is defending the person who said something ignorant. And while it isn’t necessarily the microaggressors’ fault that they said a microaggression (because privilege usually prevents those with it from understanding what they’ve said is harmful), it is harmful to defend the ignorance of a statement once it’s been defined as inherently ignorant.

Or sometimes it’s finding ways that one small piece of the conversation may not fit entirely within the conversation. I’ve heard one conversation about faculty relative privilege over staff derailed by bringing up the fact that some staff members’ salaries are higher than some faculty salaries. While this is true for a few cases, overall staff are at a disadvantage and using a small example erases the other issues in the different treatments that staff and faculty receive.

All of this is to say that when we’re in a space designed for us to learn, we need to critically reflect on how we’re engaging with the material. Are we asking questions that poke holes in examples? Or are we using the examples and the dialogue to poke holes in our thinking? Those are important self-reflective questions to consider within the context of social justice education trainings that if we do not answer for ourselves we can end up learning nothing and preventing the learning of others.

Complicating the narrative with #PrivilegeStories

We need the #PrivilegeStories because it rounds out the whole picture for us to fully comprehend the systems we live and breathe in. Without #PrivilegeStories we’re just fish who don’t understand that we’re in water.

We often hear stories about oppression and social injustice through the lens and experiences of the oppressed. Which is necessary. We need to hear the stories about the negative influence to fully understand the impact that oppression has on marginalized folks. We need to hear about the ways in which the prison industrial complex impacts people of color. We need to know about housing discrimination. We need to know about exclusionary policies against folks who practice Islam. We need to know about the barriers to success that undocumented people navigate. We need to know about income inequality (and understand the intersectional complications that occur when sex, gender, and race enter the conversation). We need to know about all of the byproducts of oppressive systems because the stories create critical consciousness of marginalization.

The stories of oppression are imperative AND it’s important for stories to be out there about the advantages that privileged folks receive. One of the insidious realities of privilege is that it’s invisible to those who have it. Because of this invisibility it’s hard to understand it, but when we tell stories about the ways that our privileged identities have advantaged us in our lives then both sides of oppressive systems become transparent. We start to see the oppression and the privilege through these stories.

Another complication that comes with privilege is the ways in which it’s easy to dismiss the stories of those who we see as different than us. I’ve been involved with many conversations about socially constructed difference in which people of color are ignored by white people because white people have been trained not to take people of color seriously. White privilege allows us to ignore the contributions of people of color and dismiss their stories of racism as “overly sensitive nonsense.” White privilege allows us to think that some laws getting passed in the 60s eradicated racism so stories of racism now must be outliers rather than the norm. White privilege allows us to accuse people of color of “playing the race card” anytime race is brought into the conversation because we’re supposed to be colorblind in a perverse co-opting of Dr. King’s vision.

So when stories get told about how white people, men, heterosexuals, upper middle class folks, cisgender people, Christians, able-bodied folks receive unearned, unasked for advantages we can push people with privilege to recognize more about how their experiences have been shaped very differently by the same systems that inflict oppression upon marginalized folks. When we can become aware of the ways that our society privileges some while oppressing others we can start to see the problems better. I think most people with privilege operate with the thought that some people are disadvantaged but don’t see the privileged side of it. When we can highlight that privileged side of inequity then consciousness can become easier for those who have privileges.

It’s important for those of us with privileged identities to share the ways in which we’ve been privileged. We have to speak truth to the invisible systems that have given us a leg up in this world. We have to recognize the injustice in that and do work in our communities to challenge our peers with privilege to wake up to that injustice and fight against it. We have to do that through telling our stories of privilege. #crimingwhilewhite is an example of these stories, but we need to go further. We need #PrivilegeStories shared consistently alongside the stories of marginalization and stories of systemic issues and institutions. We need the #PrivilegeStories because it rounds out the whole picture for us to fully comprehend the systems we live and breathe in. Without #PrivilegeStories we’re just fish who don’t understand that we live in water.

What are some of your #PrivilegeStories? Share in the comments and on social media.