Intersectionality and Privilege.
My various identities do not operate in a vacuum. There are times and places in my life that certain identities resonate more than others. When I have changed geographic locations from the Mid-Atlantic to the Midwest to the Pacific Coast to Southern Georgia, particular identities were more relevant to my daily life compared to others. These shifts have led me to explore more about my own identities, especially in relation to others. It allowed me to see how my various identities intersect with one another.
I understand why being a White, Straight, Cisgender, Able-bodied Male in the United States carries exceptional amounts of privilege. Most people perceive that I am Christian from my previous identities, so I get a free pass on that one too.
Over time, I realized how fortunate I am. Quite honestly, how lucky I am. My identities mean that I virtually cannot be discriminated against. Outside of my Atheist identity, I do not share any underrepresented identities (based on the ones in the CCP curricula). This means that I get to operate in the world differently.
My dad never had to have a conversation with me about how to interact with police. My mom never had to have a conversation with me about the dangers of STIs, specifically HIV/AIDs, in the gay community. I never had my gender questioned based on what I was wearing. I never had to map out my walking path to make sure there are ramps and proper lighting. I have never been afraid to walk alone at night. I always felt that I could be myself in any situation without being questioned.
A majority of the students I work with share similar identities to my own. Many have not started to do the work that I have had to do over time. I do my best to role model for them what it means to have these privileges. I question them when they make comments. I ask them to really think about what it means they just said. I do it in a way they can learn from the conversation. I do not want to shame them in the process. I want them to think differently. I cannot force them to change their point of view; however, I can get them to see another perspective. I can ask them to look at things from a lens different from their own. Many have never done that. A lot of the time it is the first time their views have been challenged.
I have introduced activities to students and facilitated discussions where we explore identity and ask questions about the intersections of these identities. It is amazing what can happen when the right environment and space is provided. It has shown me that students are willing to engage in these conversations. They are often scared to do it on their own without the support that mistakes will be made. And trust me, mistakes are made and will continue to be made. They really, really want to learn. They want to share about themselves. They want to hear from others. It is up to us (educators) giving them the time, place, and skills to do this effectively.
The work is difficult, but oh so very important. We cannot do this work well as professionals unless we are willing to put in the personal commitment.
My privilege and the intersections of my identity allow me to enter this work from a different place. I am not the “angry, Black woman” or the “gay activist.” I am a White, Straight, Cisgender, Able-bodied Male that cares about this work because I have grown to understand the importance of being inclusive; allowing people the space to be their true authentic selves. I have benefitted from that experience. I know that my advantage, my privilege, is that I have never had to be something that I am not. Being able to live my true authentic self is liberating and reaffirming. My goal is to provide spaces and opportunities for others to do the same.