(This blog is from the Summer of 2016.)
So it’s official. I have now survived 3 weeks of being a New Yorker and more importantly, being a Moxie. When they warned me that the summer would be busy, they weren’t kidding. This weekend it finally hit me. I felt exhausted mentally, physically, emotionally, socially, metaphysically, financially and every other –ly you can think of.
But while this program has already been a lot – what with the 40-hour workweeks, heavy readings, and seminars that have made us lose faith in the world – I appreciate the ways in which I can already tell it’s changing my thinking and forcing me to reflect on my own experiences and my own privileges. Coming from a lower income family that has faced a myriad of its own struggles over the years, it’s sometimes really easy to overlook the ways in which I am privileged as a white heterosexual in our society.
This past week we focused a lot of time discussing the criminal justice system, how our organizations intersect with it, how it targets populations differently, and the power dynamics within it. Our conversations got me thinking about my own family’s experience with law enforcement and not only how that experience has shaped who I am today, but also how different the experience may have been if I was not privileged in certain respects. I’ll leave specific details aside, but when I was very young, too young to quite comprehend, my parents ran into legal trouble when financial distress brought them to make a risky decision involving illegal substances. Because of the crime, my father spent several years of my childhood incarcerated, a time period that took me many years to really understand.
I’m not ashamed of that point in my family’s history. I realize that at the time my parents were simply trying to find any way possible to support my family. But, after the past week of covering this topic, I’ve started realizing how different that experience could have been had my family not had its white privilege. Had my parents been people of color, would my mother have been allowed to avoid incarceration as well? Would my siblings and I have been placed into the foster care system? Would my father have been released when he was? These questions have been racing through my head, especially after witnessing and reading about police brutality and the targeting of people of color in the Color of Violence and the Do Not Resist documentary. And it’s not just the criminal justice system that is guilty of these injustices. My work at GGE has opened my eyes to school push-out that disproportionately targets students of color, thus perpetuating the school to prison pipeline. Before this program, I don’t think I had ever fully grasped the extent to which varying systems in our country have historically targeted and criminalized minority groups.
So, I think one of the most important things I’ve learned so far as a Moxie is that checking our privilege does not mean discrediting personal experiences and struggles. Instead, it means acknowledging the ways society has put some of us at an advantage and thinking about how we can direct that privilege towards changing the system rather than remaining complicit in it.
The first step towards get ting rid of inequality is finally acknowledging that it actually exists.