Thursday, April 14, 2011

Finding and Accepting My Place

This first day of the White Privilege Conference has shown me that I what I need to do is to act. I can sit and contemplate my own actions and privileges, and although that brings me closer to being a caring, compassionate adult, it does nothing towards fixing the inequalities that exist right now.

There are many atrocities in today’s world that I have watched happened and not spoken up for. When friends have come to me with troubles that they have had while living in one of their labels, I have stated my solidarity with their fight and then I’ve encouraged them to hide in their own skin. I have never gone to a protest to stand up for gay rights, an MLK rally, or signed a petition for equal access. How can I say that I am an ally, that I am not prejudice, if “silence shows acceptance”. I can say that I am not silent but my actions have not shown it.

I spent this morning in a workshop entitled “The Critical Liberation of White Woman” where I finally verbalized my trepidation of creating close relationships with white (straight) women. I allowed myself to own my stereotype against this group, to claim with pride my belonging to this group, and to pledge to work with other white woman to investigate our place in society and then to use the power we do have to affect greater change. I am learning to love my label, and to take pride in who I am. Please help me in this plight, whether to give me time with my white female friends, to ask me about my progress, or to spread this acceptance of self within your own social groups. Let me also offer to help you in conversations and acceptance of who you are and what entitlements or disadvantages your labels give to you.

I also went to a very moving keynote speech from Michelle Alexander entitled The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. First off, I must insist that you do more research about this matter. Her basic thesis, and I state this no where near as elequently as she does, is that our ‘war on drugs’ has really been a race war, where minorities have been targeted and incarcerated for barely offenseable crimes.

I remember being in college and finding out that if someone was caught in possession of marijuana, in any amount, they would lose all of their federal financial aid and would never again be allowed to receive aid. At the time, that punishment did not seem to fit the crime. I imagined my (white) friends and would happen to them if this happened. It seemed crazy and I could not understand why anyone would put such a hard punishment against a person.

Note too that marijuana possession is a felony in many states, meaning at least a year of imprisonment. Not to mention that on any job application after being released, one would have to mark that they are a felon, probably passing up any possibility of getting hired again. That hardship seems strong enough. Unfortunately, if you are a felon, you also lose your rights to public housing and to food stamps. So you may end up with a year of your life lost, no home, no job, and no food. What are these people to do? (And as an aside, you also lose your right to vote. For possessing as a little as half a joint.)

Now if that doesn’t seem harsh enough, think again of who is the target. As a privileged white female, I have never been searched for drugs in some cases where my shiftiness should have warranted such a thing to happen. But I have privilege, I have followed a good path (primarily), and any cop looking at me knows that it would be a tragedy to ruin my life in such a way. But what about for the young black man, walking around in “the bad part of the city”? Why is it not a tragedy to do the same to him? And he is only the end user and not the one leading the spread of the drug.

So what do I do with this information? Should I fight for the legalization of marijuana, so it can’t be used for a race war anymore? That might be a start but there is something much deeper at work here. If marijuana becomes legalized, does that stop the harassment? Definitely not.

I’m not sure where to go with that one yet. I will stay in search of the answer. I will find a way to act.

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