Power and Privilege: Walking the WalkJune 27, 2011 Leave a comment
Spurred on by my colleague, Jen Willsea, I recently submitted a piece for the “Walk the Talk” zine/book project. The organizers describe the project as being about “exploring power and exploitation in nonprofit organizations, alignment of our work with our vision, and what role nonprofits have in radical social transformation…[because] even in the most grassroots and progressive organizations, working on the most radical issues, we may find a deep dissonance between the world we want to create, and what it is like to be working in the organization day-by-day.
We live in a hierarchically oppressive world – and though the organizations we work in may have mission statements that aim to change this, ‘talking the talk’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘walking the walk’ and social justice nonprofits can feel like a mirror of the world we’re trying to change. An organization’s power structure or ways of doing work can create deeply unhealthy and exploitative dynamics within the organization itself and between the nonprofit and the ‘clients,’ ‘members’ or ‘community’ that it works with.”
I applaud this effort to provoke thought and dialogue around these issues. One of the options for submissions was to “share your burning questions,” and that’s what I did. Here are the questions I will pose over the next few blog posts:
- How do I handle my privileges responsibly and avoid the “oppression Olympics?”
- How do I figure out which privileges to leverage, which to minimize and which to divest?
- When is it more responsible to “hold the bag” and when is it more important to “let the ball bounce?”
- What has my contribution been and how do my colleagues of color see me?
- How do we “undo racism” without also “undoing race?” And, how do we “undo race” without leaving racism in place?
- How do we define our humanity?
- What do I want badly enough to pursue?
- Where’s my tribe?
For now, I will close with a quote from Marie Rainer Rilke. “Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.”
I wonder, what questions are you exploring around these issues?