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.
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:
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
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.