True Solidarity: Moving Past Privilege Guilt

As I prepare to head to the White Privilege Conference in Madison, WI this weekend, here’s my latest piece published at Everyday Feminism.  As I have been helping plan some of the parts of the conference meant to inspire people to take action during and after the three-day event, this post seems particularly relevant, as those of us with privilege must find ways to move past guilt and toward accountable action.

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I remember well when I was first confronted with my privilege.

I had just started college, and some activists called me out on the ways in which my class and race privilege were showing up in the classroom as well as in activist spaces.

Of course I was indignant. “I’m not privileged! I work hard for everything I have!”

And while I did indeed work hard, that assertion is obviously laughable.

There are all sorts of aspects of my identity that afford me privilege: my race, my gender, my religious upbringing, my intergenerational wealth, my ability, and on and on.

But that didn’t make it any easier for me to hear, and as I realized they were right, I fell into a bit of depression, carrying tremendous guilt and struggling to understand how this could be true.

I felt as if I was a bad person simply for being who I am, and I was trapped in shame.

I’m a racist, classist, sexist, ableist homophobe who is ruining everything everywhere.” Yeah, it’s a little dramatic, but it’s honestly reflective of how I felt.

In the midst of my wrestling with this guilt and inertia, I noticed a quote on the dorm room wall of a girl I was totes crushing on:

QuotePic1

I didn’t think much of it the first time I saw it. Or the second time. But since I was hanging around in her room a lot, the quote kept showing up for me, and after a while, it really hit me.

I had to find a way to move out of guilt if I wanted to make a difference.

In time I came to realize that if privilege guilt prevents me from acting against oppression, then it is simply another tool of oppression, and sitting in guilt means further colluding with the system that is making me feel shame.

In turn, we have to find a way to move through or past guilt and toward action against oppression.

And though the process of overcoming privilege guilt must inevitably be intensely personal, there are approaches to ending feelings of guilt that all people of privilege can take.

Approaches to Moving Through or Past Privilege Guilt

1. Self-Reflect

If you’re struggling with shame about your identity and your privilege, that guilt is rooted somewhere, and understanding those roots is important.

Is your guilt coming from your active collusion in oppression? Is it rooted in past action? Is it rooted in feelings of powerlessness about the big-picture problems of oppression?

Without a strong understanding of where our guilt comes from, it is impossible to overcome guilt and accountably act for social justice.

After all, if our guilt is rooted in past oppressive actions, knowing so allows us to forgive ourselves and, perhaps, apologize to others for our hurtful behavior so that we can move forward.

If our guilt stems from our own collusion with oppression, lacking such awareness will only lead to “White knighting,” a term I use as a catchall for acting for or on behalf of those we wish to help. Having knowledge of our own collusion, then, allows us to begin to take steps toward solidarity.

2. Understand and Accept Your Role in Oppression

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

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Coming Out of the Woods: On Hugo Schwyzer and Accountability

Last Friday, I was getting ready to unplug from technology for a week in preparation for a busy end to summer and beginning of fall, and I got a few messages from people about how Hugo Schwyzer was melting down on Twitter.  I didn’t click any of their links, not having the energy.  Instead, I turned off my phone and headed to a wedding and then to the woods of Northern Minnesota for a week.

When I came out of the woods, this is what I found.  And I’ve spent the last 18 hours or so reading things like the #solidarityisforwhitewomen twitter stream and this piece from Mikki Kendall and others.  And I’ve been reflecting.

For those readers of mine who are not followers of this whole mess (good for you in many ways), here’s a very brief summary: Hugo Schwyzer is a professor who has for some time championed himself as a feminist (and also, strangely, a bad boy?) and who has been championed by many prominent, mostly White feminists as a good guy and an example of redemption.  He is an abuser who claimed to have gotten past his addiction that “caused him to abuse” and boasted a “redemption” narrative about turning one’s life around to work for good, all the while quietly (and not so quietly) continuing his patterns of abuse, particularly toward women of Color who he admits he could abuse without facing consequences because of his privilege and power relative to theirs.  For years, women (but particularly women of Color) have been calling him what he is, but too many of us didn’t listen.  It took him melting down and admitting his abuses for too many of us to pay attention.

As I’ve reflected upon all of this since coming back into the world of internet yesterday afternoon, I’ve know that there are a few things that I need to say.

First and foremost, I need to apologize.

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