“You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind..”
—The fictional character Morpheus
When I think of this quote, I can definitely make a connection between it and how I found my way to being a Social Worker. Growing up being black and poor, I had many experiences that communicated the message to me that I didn’t matter, my family didn’t matter, and others like us didn’t matter. I didn’t always understand why, and I was angry because of that.
“Personal life experiences with the intersections of racism and classism are what initially sparked my interest to explore the systems of oppression, and feeling marginalized for a variety of reasons as a poor young man of color gave me a sensitivity to noticing the marginalization of other people in groups different from my own.”
Social Work “gave me a deeper understanding of some of the social injustices of which I was already very familiar with through my lived experiences, as well as some that I was not as familiar with. When I sat in my indignation at many of the social ills that existed, I figured to myself that I could either use all of that energy in a negative way, or channel it into something constructive that could be helpful to myself and others.”
–From my interview with Social Work Helper: Social Workers for Social Justice: Interview with Relando Thompkins
I felt something was wrong with the world, and social work helped me to figure out where I thought my place was in doing something to change it. However I also found something else. Not only was something wrong with the world, but something was wrong with my world, my thought processes, my actions. It wasn’t just other people, there was also something wrong with me.
Just the other day I was talking with a friend about how sometimes, when presented with a challenge, we can go deeper into the behavior we were doing previously instead of seeing that challenge as a wake-up call to change ourselves for the better.
This route can be self-defeating and self-destructive.
However, if we are able to remain open; if we are able to be honest, be brave, and accept the challenge, we can take actions to become better versions of ourselves.
Learning that although I am oppressed in some ways, I am also an oppressor in other ways , as challenging as it was, was also liberating as well.
Pieces of our humanity can be lost when we are dehumanized and marginalized because of parts of our identities. Pieces of our humanity are lost when we use privileged parts of our identities to dehumanize others.
“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.”
“I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”
I think Harriet was talking about a kind of mental slavery, a slavery so deep and ingrained that (Without intervention) those impacted by it can move through their lives unaware of its existence.
Newsflash: “those impacted by it”=each and every one of us.
Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian: Year 3 Complete
“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.”
–From my first note: Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian (N.A.H.)
I started writing here 3 years ago today after being inspired by the realization that I had been lied to; that I’d been misinformed about myself, and others. Not only had I been misinformed, but sometimes, I even bought into it. Sometimes, I even buy into it.
Here’s to Getting Free
As I continue to share my truth through this platform, it’s important to remind myself that my experiences are a reflection of the inaccuracies I’ve learned, and my attempts to break free of them, as well as a reflection of a more complete view that comes with learning new information.
The journey of unlearning is a life-long one, but it is also a series of conscious choices that have to be chosen over and over again, day after day, time after time, as turning back to old habits is also a choice.
I am an Aspiring Humanitarian, with an emphasis on the term “Aspiring”. I accept the fact that my personal growth will be a lifelong process.
Year 3 complete. Let’s see what’s in store for year 4.
From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins, MSW, LLMSW