I would like to share with you a bit of my past week's experience as I struggle to integrate what I learned into my life and my work – about the oppression that we all face.
Last week I attended a 6-day training in community organizing, facilitated by PICO, a national, faith based network of individuals and organizations that work in their communities, through their houses of worship; and, I plan to volunteer with my local PICO organization to address racism, privilege and mass incarceration - a new campaign here in Philadelphia.
There were 100 folks at this training -- about 25% clergy, 80% people of color -- mostly Latinos and black folks. These are people who are at the bottom of the pyramid -- organizing for grocery stores that they can walk to, schools, sidewalks to schools, health services, for alternatives to juvenile detention, against police brutality/racism, and mass incarceration -- and much more. On Thursday, the woman sitting next to me, a lovely woman with 4 children, received a phone call from her neighbor that her house had again been burglarized, by neighborhood youth needing drug money – and this was not an unusual occurrence where she lived.
The goal of the training is for each person to discover their story and purpose, learn how to engage in 1 to 1 conversations that develop trust with other people so that we can work together across racial divisions, and, to build the movement for liberation from the oppression of the "dominant narrative" in which skin color, social class, language/country of origin, etc., determine who is at the top of the pyramid and who is at the bottom. They are committed to liberation for all of us – both people of color and white people -- understanding that our destiny is tied together.
White people are at the top of this pyramid -- many of us with sufficient resources that we almost never worry about the everyday issues that others live with and cannot get out from under – a lack of healthy food in their neighborhoods, lack of decent jobs or schools for their children, basic safety and security, not to mention issues of racial bias.
The white people, who are at the top of this pyramid, are oppressed as well -- with a sense of disconnection and separation from others, and with enormous fear -- of those who do not have the privileges, safety, education, opportunity, health care, etc. that we have been given.
I have struggled this past week feeling ashamed of my privilege. Though now I can see the power and opportunity in that privilege – to share my story with others and change the dynamics that create racism, opportunity and hope in our country.
I know that others care, just as I do, but do not yet understand the breadth of this oppression -- which is so difficult to see and feel from our position in the pyramid.
Our “fellow Americans” are struggling against a system that is rigged.
The "American dream" of moving up the ladder of opportunity no longer exists – or, the rungs of that ladder are out of reach for those on the very bottom -- unless they happen to be incredibly exceptional. Though after hearing the stories of stop & frisk, of racial profiling of black men & Latina women who are just as accomplished as I -- I recognize that although someone might pull themselves up, might have a nice home, job, money, and more -- they are still subject to racism, prejudice, bias -- on an institutional level that I have never, nor will ever, encounter.
I feel called to share what I have learned with compassionate, conscious elders knowing that we want a better world for all children and for future generations.
The world that we have now privileges us -- and deeply oppresses others. At its core it is just not fair.
I appreciate that you have taken the time to read these words. It shows that you care, just as I do. I hope that you too will find a way to encounter the enormous privilege and disparity that exists in our world.
I know that by encountering the injustice, the pain, the suffering and the shame – along with our passion and power, we can create a world that is more just for all.
Working together for that vision is what gives me hope.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
- Read: White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack -- Peggy McIntosh
- Read: The Four I's of Oppression
- Watch: The Future of Race in American -- Michelle Alexander, 24 minutes
- Watch: Cracking the Codes: Joy DeGruy, A Trip to the Grocery Store, 4 min
- Watch: What Are the Odds of a White Guy Going To Prison? 2 min.