In my antiracism and anti-oppression work I often hear people—dominant and subordinated folks alike—talk about the need for whites, men, heterosexuals, the wealthy and others similarly privileged groups to just “give up” their privilege.
I just have to say, though…
One cannot give up privilege, gender or racial or any other form. I cannot give up male privilege any more than I can give up being subordinated as a Latino in a racialized society.
The idea of “giving up” privilege is fundamentally flawed. Privilege is not an object than one possesses; it is not a thing that is earned or purchased; it is not something that can be given up or given away. Privilege is a condition of social power, a status that is granted by oppressive society. And as such, privilege can be used either to perpetuate oppression or to change it. But it cannot be “given up.”
The notion of “giving up” privilege is also flawed in how it conceives the process of change. Change, or human growth, is developmental: a psychosocial process. The notion of “giving up white privilege” speaks to the process of racial identity development. Yet social and racial identity development is not a linear process, moving from one stage to the next through which one drops or leaves behind all characteristics of the previous stages. Racial and social identity development involves an expansion of perspectives, the shifting of attitudes, and adopting new behaviors that are more appropriate and functional to that new perspective, meanwhile carrying all that came before in all previous stages.
But because one always carries the stuff—ideas, beliefs, values, feelings, attitudes, behaviors—of previous stages, it is quite easy to be triggered and “regress,” operating out of old patterns one may have thought to have outgrown. This is why, from our positions of privilege relative to others, we must always remain vigilant. [BTW: This principle also applies to internalized inferiority, the psychological counterpart to internalized superiority of privileged social identity groups.]
To be clear, though, one cannot give up privilege. Not only because its coding cannot be deleted or erased from our body-minds, but because the coding of oppression is also embedded and operates in the minds of others at various stages of in their own social identity and social behavior. Furthermore, racism, like sexism and class oppression, is fully operational and as alive as ever in our institutions and in the dominant collective consciousness we call culture. Privilege is a function of power, beyond personal identity, critical consciousness or even anti-oppression values or intention.
Now, as individuals, or better yet, as organized groups of privileged folks, people can use their privilege responsibly, accountably, for the benefit of the oppressed and, ultimately, toward the development of all people and for the transformation of collective consciousness and culture.
However, the idea of “giving up privilege” is a false proposition: it is a mental set-up for failure. It does not actually further anti-racist anti-oppression work, but rather creates further obstacles in the form of personal and interpersonal frustration, a sense of impossibility, of futility. It is useless.
So, how about, instead, we give up the notion of “giving up” privilege. How about we use it. Responsibly. For the liberation of all beings. For the transformation of human culture.
We’ve heard it a million times: that Latinos are the fastest growing segment of the US population (or were until just the other day) and that, together with African Americans, we are among the nation’s poorest and sickest, over-represented in prisons and unemployment lines, and under-represented in schools, business and politics.
We also know that Latinos are the largest of the so-called “minority” groups in the US today and that, together with African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans and other People of Color, we will outnumber Whites to become the new “majority” within the next thirty years. That is, if we are still considered “People of Color” by then, since the definition of race has always been flexible and who is considered “White” is changing once again.
This fact, that the definitions of “race” and “whiteness” has actually changed throughout the history of this country, is something not too many people know about or understand. Nor do many people, Latinos and Latinas included, know how people of Latin American origin in the US have been racially defined—and re-defined—over the past 195 years since the US purchase of Florida, the Mexican-American and Spanish-American Wars, and its on-going relationships with Latin America and the Caribbean. Nor have many people, Latino and otherwise, closely examined the origin and implications of the term “Hispanic,” or its impact on our identity and, potentially, on our collective social, cultural, economic and political well-being.
In the Latino Challenges Toward Racial Equity, a two-day workshop hosted by the Racial Equity Institute in Greensboro NC this coming January 17-18, 2014, we examine the racialization of Latinos in the US. To shed some additional light on the complexities of racial identity of Latinos, we will also provide some historical and cultural context of race and racism in Latin America.
Moreover, we will explore how Latino identity is a source of strength for individuals and families of Latin American origin in the United States. Furthermore, we will propose that a critical understanding of the Latino experience of anyone that works in and with Latino communities is central to ending racial disparities in our institutions and to working together to create racial equity in our society.
Among the topics we will address are:
- Race and Racism: from the Spanish colonial castas system to the racial construct in the US today
- The Cyclone of Oppression: Dynamics and Impacts of Cultural, Institutional, Interpersonal and Internalized Racism
- Latino? Hispanic? Identity and Demography in a Race-Based Society
- Black, Brown and Light: Latinos and the Ever-Changing Political Nature of “Race”
- La cultura cura: The Healing Power of Culture
- Integral Transformative Organizing: Coming Together for [a] Change
So, if you work with or on behalf of Latinos and seek to deepen your effectiveness in creating racial equity in the Greensboro-Chapel Hill-Durham area, please come join María Reinat-Pumarejo and me for this workshop. [And if you live and work elsewhere, let’s talk about organizing a workshop in your area.]
These video clips, used as part of a recent presentation I offered on the Psychosocial Aspects of Racial Identity, provide clear evidence of the psychological internalization of racial inferiority in Black and Latino children. Together, the three clips, filmed in different periods —from pre-Civil Rights Movement to more than 40 years after— clearly indicate the persistence of racism in the US and its continued transmission across generations.
Dr. Kenneth Clark (1939)
Kiri Davis (2006)
Racismo en México (2011)
At the end of each year and the beginning of the new one, for some time now, I have been doing what has become my annual ritual review and envisioning journaling process. More than ask myself, “So, what did I accomplish this past year?” or “What are my goals for the new one?”, I deeply consider: “Where have I been?”, “What have I learned?” and “Where do I intend to go this coming year?” The questions beneath the questions, though, are more like, “Am I still on course with my life purpose? Is the direction of my gaze and my vision aligned with my core values and my true heart, still, at this stage of my life? What in me or in my life must I tweak or, perhaps, change altogether, in the context of the events and realities unfolding before me?”
Typically, this process may take me a few days. Sometimes up to a whole week. For some reason, though, this year it’s taking me somewhat longer. Maybe it’s because of my emergent elder identity, especially given the implications of aging in the material(istic) world. Probably. Or perhaps it’s because of all the important issues and global challenges of the past year to consider, among them: the Arab Spring; the Occupy Movement (dare we say the US Autumn or, as some suggest, the beginning of the Fall of Capitalism as we know it?); fraking, tar sands and cross-continental pipelines; the US wars on Iraq and Afghanistan; Wikileaks controversies, Anonymous takedowns, and the increased use of information technologies and social media in the shaping of world events. These are piled on top of the historic, on-going and ever-increasing disparities between whites and People of Color, between the wealthy and the poor, particularly of the women and children of these disempowered social groups in the US and its colonies. Clearly, racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism and all forms of oppression are as alive and well as ever as we enter 2012.
I think my process is taking longer this year because I’m still trying to gauge the impact of current events on our present collective circumstance, and to understand their significance for our times. Might we actually be experiencing a shift in the nature and scope of social movement? Or, more significantly, might this moment represent a leap in our collective human consciousness? Either way, it seems to me to be a moment of tremendous potentiality for social justice and for cultural transformation; a moment requiring keen awareness and focused intentionality.
Every place I go, everywhere I turn my head, I see and hear people trying to make sense of the changes occurring before our eyes; trying to find their rightful place in a chaotic world; trying to redefine their role and contribution to a society that should serve us all better.
Sometime last September, my 19-year old son, who had just begun his first semester at UPR, observed, almost lamenting, that there seemed to be no worldwide social upheaval, cultural movement or political revolution happening like back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The lead singer in a thrash metal band (don’t ask!), a film buff and an avid reader, he’s quite knowledgeable about that time period and its on-going impact on world cultures. [Having a boomer father who is also into rock, movies and books doesn’t hurt, I guess.] I tried to remind him that, indeed, major events and changes were happening all over the world, though mostly beyond US mainstream/corporate media’s lenses, that seemed to indicate we were in the midst of a major transformation: the Arab popular uprisings; massive protests across Europe; radical shifts in social, economic, political and environmental policy throughout Latin America. Even at home in Puerto Rico, with the widespread adoption of anti-colonial language in public discourse, the growing environmental and food sovereignty movements, not to mention a new participatory democracy and leadership emerging among students at his university.
I shared with him attitudes that I, as well as his mother (an international anti-oppression organizer and cultural transformer), encounter on a regular basis in our work and travels: that ordinary people working with others—in schools and colleges, in social service agencies and institutions, in business, in media, in religious and spiritual houses of worship, in counseling and health centers—are eagerly, often times desperately, trying to grapple with the complexities created by the multiple, simultaneous and multi-layered oppressions we endure in this time. These are ordinary people trying to understand the historical context of today’s problems. People across institutional hierarchies trying to correct the disparate and disproportional impact of institutional policies. Ordinary people working to correct economic inequities and social injustice. Ordinary people bringing healing and well-being to the lives of others. And in the process, seeking to bring greater balance and harmony into their own lives.
One thing is for sure: it is not easy to connect the dots of all that’s going on, or to make sense of such great complexity, especially when we are caught up in its midst, just as it is occurring all around us… and inside us… all at once! As I said, I, too, am still trying to sort it out, particularly as it concerns the role and function of my work in support of people in social justice and cultural transformation movement.
What is clear to me is that indeed we are in the midst of an upheaval, a shift in consciousness. An exciting time of change and, as I said earlier, of great potentiality! A time and an opportunity to deeply examine our place and role in the processes that are unfolding within and before us.
And while there may not be definitive answers (are such answers even possible?), the consciousness-in-action approach offers an appropriate response: a framework and a process for deepening our development as leaders for these times.
As we enter 2012, at c-Integral we are gearing our programs to this end. In late Spring, Rose Sackey-Milligan and I will be holding our first Spiraling into Oneness weekend retreat, funded in part by Kalliopeia Foundation. Meanwhile, we continue to seek additional grants and donations for other retreats and workshops throughout the year in both the US and in Puerto Rico.
I invite you to come join us at c-Integral’s events, including the thematic talks and presentations we will be announcing as the year progresses. Let’s to get to know each other better: hear what’s on each other’s minds and hearts; see how we can work together toward integral change.
I am finally updating and re-purposing my personal site and blog (and soon the other sites I also manage).
In this site, I intend to integrate many of my selves, mostly professional (aspects of my work in the world), some personal (like some of my favorite photographs).