Social Justice teaching is something I have always tried to apply in my role as an RA. Much like any teacher, my goal is to inspire my residents to ask questions about the world around them. Rather than blindly accept the world around them, it is my hope to continually have my residents challenge what they feel to be de facto aspects of their worlds. This past Tuesday, I believe I made a step in the right direction with me Privilege Chains programming.
The phrase “white privilege” is gaining increasing popularity around academic circles and the US at large. Essentially, the idea behind white privilege is that Caucasian-Americans, as a result of skin tone and historical developments in the United States, possess an inherent advantage in the world involving things such as confrontations with the police, treatment in establishments, the potential for job applications, etc. Many studies have validated this concept, but yet I have always felt that we should focus on the concept of privilege as a whole.
Privilege is not something inherent only to whites. Rather, there exist degrees of privilege that affect multiple individuals in multiple ways. There’s male privilege: women not only make less money on the dollar compared to men, but a recent study asked both men and women their greatest fears when dealing with the opposite sex. Men mentioned their fear of being emasculated by women in sporting or academic events, while women mentioned their fear of men murdering them.
Women are most afraid of being murdered, while men mostly fear emasculation.
Murder vs. Emasculation
Let that settle in.
Other forms of privilege exist as well: American privilege, straight privilege, Christian privilege, ableist privilege, socioeconomic privilege, etc. The list goes on and on. Privilege is not something to demonize another person for, however. Rather, we as a society should seek to regularly “check our privilege” to better advocate for others. Privilege essentially blinds us to the feelings or experiences of others. It “chains” us (sorry, couldn’t help that pun) to preconceived notions of other groups and individuals. And the purpose of this program was to have my residents acknowledge their own privilege and formulate how to go about bettering society with said privilege.
The actual program was pretty straightforward: I read aloud several statements pertaining to different identities my residents might hold. Some required them to add a link to their chain, such as the statement, “Add a link if you can receive a scholarship without others assuming it was based on the color of your skin”. Others require an individual to remove a link, like the statement, “Remove a link if your religious headwear may violate certain workplace headgear laws”.
While hesitant at first, several of my residents began asking very poignant, direct questions that challenged the unspoken taboo about talking about topics such as race or sexual orientation. Now while the program only lasted for about an hour, I really do believe some began to reevaluate their perspectives on the world around them. The discussions continued when I broke them up into smaller groups asking them to evaluate the lengths of their chains and the emotions they were feeling.
Privilege, much like conversations about racism, is something difficult to talk about. Many individuals are raised not to address such topics. Yet we ourselves must be willing to break such barriers, for our future is still being written. To promote a better world, a kinder world, a more accepting world, the road starts here, with us.
Break your chains.