As I said in the last post, I can recognize the #FitchTheHomeless campaign to be composed of many well-meaning individuals (including the guy who started it) and think their intent is in pointed in the right direction even if their execution is not. That being said, good intentions only go so far. As one of my favorite writers today, when Ta-Nehisi Coates was asked how he would feel if his son were subjected to racism by someone who may have had good intentions (i.e., a good racist), his response was:
“And right then I knew that I was tired of good people, that I had had all the good people I could take.”
And ends don’t justify means even if that end result is supposedly positive (homeless getting clothed), while the means is not so much (homeless acting as props). Because we can certainly do better than that. It’s a false choice to believe that we can either help people or provide them with dignity. We can do both. Good intentions provide the former. Checking your privilege provides the latter.
But enough about #FitchTheHomeless! Because, in reality, the campaign is just an example of the issue, not THE issue at hand. So how exactly does one check privilege?
After I wrote my last post, I was challenged by many in ways that I think are helpful (and some not so helpful) and also, provide an opportunity to make this entire dialogue more constructive. In some ways, I’m not even sure that there’s a lot of agreement on what “privilege” actually means.
My definition? As I was telling my friends the other day…
Privilege is essentially the ability and luxury to not have to understand someone else and / or respect their feelings.
That’s not necessarily an active thing. In fact, it frequently isn’t. I don’t walk around as a (straight) man actively exerting my privilege over women. It just happens. And that’s because, given society’s structure, I have the ability and luxury to let it happen and actually “benefit” as a result. On the other hand, as a Black person, I have to know every little detail about the broader majority community and American power structures in order to navigate them just to survive. There is no luxury. But White people don’t have a need to immerse themselves in the Black community, reach out and truly understand how that community operates, what grievances may exist or even listen at all. Their lives, I would argue, won’t be as enriching as they could be if they did, but they’ll do just fine and dandy (personally) without going through that learning process. Same goes for straight v. gay community relationships, American citizens v. immigrant community relationships, everyone else v. Muslim community relationships, and in the case of #FitchTheHomeless, rich v. poor community relationships. At least in the United States.
And why is that important? Because if one is truly interested in overcoming the imbalance that results from this privilege, the only way to do so is to bring it front and center in your mind so that you are ultra-aware of how these relationships play out and alarm bells go off when something seems awry.
Therefore, I wanted to share some ways that I have learned to try and check my privilege and I hope, prepare myself to become more effective at helping others. I hope to explore each of them in more detail at later dates in order to provide ultra-specific details of what exactly each means.
- Be hyper-vigilant: Golden Rule of how would I react if I were in the same position. But at all times
- Speak from your own experience: Use “I” statements early and often
- Invest in some mirror work: Recognize and address the obstacles that you or your community are responsible for first
- Provide dignity: Treat people as people, not helpless vessels for your charity
- Support self-determination: Recognize that those you are helping frequently have the answers to their own problems
- Empower: Recognize that those you are trying to help are not powerless
- Ask for consent: Default should be to ask permission or if another even wants your help
- Build trust: Requires building true relationships to gain the trust necessary
- Give up your privilege: Reverse your role and support instead of lead
- Meet people where they are: No judgment. Instead, recognize that each person’s process is different
If I’m missing something, I’d fully appreciate additions to this list, as I don’t feign to be a comprehensive authority on the matter and can certainly, and in fact, look forward to learning from others.