Who’s Labor is it Anyway?



This comment posted by a reader in an earlier note reminds me of an issue that continues to surface in social justice work. I’m reposting it here for your own personal reflection.

“Thank you for this post, Relando. As I read it, I thought about another blog, The Weekly Sift. That blog is written by ex-mathematician, Doug Muder.

In a blog post titled The Distress of the Priviledged, where Muder coins the term Privileged Distress and explains that one way to get the dominant, core-culture, priviledged class to empathize (and, hopefully, later gravitate towards more progressive, equity-based thinking) is to acknowledge the “losses” of the privileged.

As social workers we understand the importance of and value in providing some form of validation in order to disarm someone who feels defensive. Validation and acknowledgment of priviledged distress is a step in teaching, or re-teaching empathy.

If you haven’t already read it, I’d like to invite you to read Muder’s post. Please share what you think of it.”

Thanks for sharing your comment! I’m really glad you stopped by. Yes, I’ve read that article before.  Sure, it can be very challenging for a person who has all their lives been socialized to believe that their bodies/lives/existence/thought processes are superior to others, to come in contact with experiences/information/realities that contradict that socialization.

Sometimes in my work I encounter the belief that people who are privileged should have their emotional needs met before they can accept their own privilege, and tune in to how what they are doing contributes to the oppression of others, and that the responsibility falls on the marginalized person to do so.

I don’t subscribe to that narrative.

(Also see, Derailment Bingo)

I think that when people are confronted with the reality of their own privilege, they should be allowed to sit in their discomfort, feel the gravity of that reality, and not be rescued. Most especially when the reality check is being given by a person who is oppressed in relation to them.

I also see Social Work as a means of working toward social justice by challenging dominant narratives and actions that reinforce those notions of superiority. Ensuring that the privileged have their needs recognized or met first before doing the work required to right the wrongs that have been done doesn’t challenge dominant narratives. It reinforces their superiority and further marginalizes the oppressed, and i’m not here for that, even if that person is myself.

I did appreciate the author’s acknowledgement that the comparisons of “loss” were not the same, because they really aren’t.


From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins, MSW, LLMSW



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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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