“Blindspot” Redacted: Uncovering Privilege

In Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian’s Uncovering Privilege series, participants are invited to share about an experience (or experiences) in which they realized that they had privilege in a certain aspect or aspects of their social identities, what they have chosen to do with that information, and what their journey has been like since then.

In today’s entry I’ll share an experience with you where I was reminded of my own privilege in relation to ability.

Some time ago now, I was co-facilitating an intergroup dialogue with a group of community members interested in working toward social change in their area.

Self-examination is a key element that can help us get to that place.

“One of the things I learned while I was negotiating was that until I changed myself, I could not change others.–Nelson Mandela

self reflectionExamples of questions that should remain a driving force in this work are: “Who are we, what have our experiences been like as a result of who we are, and how do they inform our thoughts and actions?”

Social Identity Profile

There are a variety of ways in which we can go about answering those questions, and one of the methods we used for the day was The Social Identity Profile, an exercise where participants have an opportunity to independently self identify themselves across social group identities such as race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, religion, sexual orientation, ability, age, nationality, tribal affiliation, body size and others.

We are then invited to confirm which identities we are most aware of, which ones we think about the least, which ones have the greatest effect on how others perceive us, which ones have the strongest effect on how we perceive ourselves, which ones have an effect on our decision-making, which ones give us power and privilege in society, and more.

Again, participants take time to complete this assessment of themselves silently and independently, before sharing their experiences to the degree that they feel safe to do so with a partner or in smaller groups. After some time has passed, we then debrief as a large group to provide opportunities for us to learn from one another’s experiences collectively.

reciprocity_how_to_increase_your_content_reachA common thread that is shared in dialogue is the understanding that we are all at the same time both teachers and learners, with the idea being that when we share things about ourselves with others, we teach others about ourselves, and when others share things about themselves, they teach us, and we learn from them.

Debrief

Although this was initially a gathering of “strangers”, the level of sharing was very high, with many participants taking risks finding support. It was a good reminder of how important it is to set up the space for that kind of communication to occur.

After learning from others’ experiences, I opted to teach about myself in saying that after thinking about my own experience with completing the profile, the areas in which I think about the least were the areas in which I have the most privilege.

I went on to say that if I was truly being honest with myself, the areas that I think about the least can show me where my blindspots are.

……….

Something wonderful happened next.

Blindspot Redacted: Uncovering Privilege

A participant spoke up in an effort for solidarity and put out a caution to the group to strive to use less language that is ablelist, and to work toward using more inclusive language, as the term “blindspot” can be perceived as being derogatory towards people with disabilities.

Powerful

One of the purposes of dialogue is to increase understanding of ourselves and others, to increase our abilities to negotiate conflicts peacefully, and to establish and maintain cooperative relationships with people in which we may think we have nothing in common.

Yet, this is not without tension, as another intentional purpose of dialogue is to challenge and disrupt our previously unexamined belief systems.

Before that moment, I must confess that I did not give much thought to using the term, as I previously perceived it as being the “perfect” description for areas where I lacked awareness, or areas where I do not often focus my attention because I don’t have to; because of my privilege.

It was important for me to understand that my actions as a result of my previously unexamined acceptance of that term were in direct complicity with a narrative that is oppressive to others.

Getting Free

As I’ve written about before, privilege can be a prison that creates barriers to communication and can keep us from living the authentic lives we would say that we wish to lead. Sometimes we need the help of others to get free.

“My experiences have shown me that in the process of working for social justice outwardly, it is also important for me to continue to critically examine myself; shedding attitudes/behaviors that are oppressive, to make room for those that are more inclusive and humanitarian.”

I wrote that in my very first note for this blog.

“..I also work to think critically about any biases that I may have, so that I may come to recognize roles I may play that are oppressive to others, as well as find ways that I can act against oppression through social action. It is my hope, that by living “intentionally”, my actions will match my values and aid me in impacting the lives of others in a positive way..”

conveyor-beltI wrote that in my Vision & Values statement.

Having my thought process challenged in that way allowed me to be able to stop the conveyor belt in my mind’s assembly line and toss out a harmful product that had been falsely approved.

Ultimately, it created an opportunity for me to assess myself, learn, and make changes. It helped me to stay accountable; to own up to my own privilege, and also helped me to be accountable to my life path.

This kind of conflict and development is exactly what needs to happen with dialogue, and the experience reminded me of why I value it so much.

We all need help, and we all need to help. I was also reminded of the great amount of courage required to do the work, and how none of us can do it by ourselves.

I thanked the participant for the great gift that I personally received from their sharing, and it was evident through others’ responses that the entire group benefitted as a result.

Among others, one change that I am making is to eliminate the use of that term from my language, and when sharing with others about areas where I lack awareness, places of ignorance, or areas where I do not often focus my attention because I don’t have to due to my privilege, I will be explicit in calling them what they are, just that.

I’m hoping others may learn from my experience, as it is one I will never forget.

Are you someone who has used this term before? Let me know what impact (if any) coming across my reflection has had on your thoughts. 

I am actively seeking submissions for this series

If you’re interested in participating, and would like to contribute to this series and help ensure its growth, here are some things you can do.

1. Take some time to reflect on these prompts: Share about an experience in which you realized that you had privilege in a certain aspect or aspects of your identity in terms of different social groups you are a member of. What helped you to recognize that privilege? What have you chosen to do with that information? What has your journey been like since then?

2. Write your responses and send them to me by filling out the contact form here. I may contact you to ask follow-up questions that might be included in the final post, as well as if there were any photos or social media handles you might want to include in your submission as well.

If you would you like to remain anonymous or have some other details about your specific identity removed,  let me know that in the details of your message and I will act accordingly.

If writing isn’t your preferred method of communication, you can send a link to a podcast, video, recorded message, photos, art, etc.

3. Share your submission, and this introductory post as widely as you can with others whom you think would also be interested in participating.

We are all both teachers and learners, and I’d love to hear your stories. I am hoping that this effort will serve as a source of connection and support as we navigate our individual, yet connected struggles and growth.

Here’s to “waking up”.

Ubuntu,

From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins, MSW

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I’m a Social Justice Educator and Aspiring Humanitarian who is interested in conflict resolution, improving intergroup relations, and building more equitable and inclusive communities.

“Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian” is my blog, where I write about issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. By exploring social identities through written word, film & video, and other forms of media, I hope to continue to expand and enrich conversations about social issues that face our society, and to find ways to take social action while encouraging others to do so as well in their own ways.

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