Intro by NJCASA

Brock Turner has again garnered media attention with his attempt to appeal the rape charges against him, despite his lenient sentencing. With this case back on our radar, we cannot ignore the layers of privilege that have afforded him luxuries that People of Color are often not afforded, especially in the justice system. Research has shown that white men receive sentences that are on average about 17% shorter than Black men who commit the same crime. Often the disparities created by privilege inequities are less overt, but no less insidious.  If we want to end sexual violence, we’re compelled to take a deeper look at all power imbalances, including racism, and understand our collective role in uprooting these oppressive systems.

Social Media Ambassador Rachael O’Brien dives into the topic of privilege and how folks who hold white privilege can work to support ending oppression and, ultimately, sexual violence.


As an NJCASA Social Media Ambassador, I strive to start online conversations about awareness and prevention of sexual violence. If we want to prevent sexual violence, we must recognize and understand how power imbalances allow sexual violence to occur.

Privilege refers to the advantages gained simply by being part of a social group that does not experience systemic oppression. It is one of the most pervasive ways in which power imbalances manifest. Privilege exists within the context of gender, race, class, religion, language spoken, education, body size, ability, and more. It’s important to note that a person can experience both privilege and oppression at the same time – for example, you can benefit from privilege from your race, but experience oppression and discrimination due to your gender identity.  By the very nature of living with any amount of privilege, we can be entirely unaware of it until it’s pointed out to us – and sometimes, that can trigger disbelief or denial.

 

To fully address the issue of sexual violence, the role of privilege must be understood. The inability to do so only supports power imbalances that contribute to violence, continues victim blaming narratives, marginalizes survivors, and fails to uproot the fundamental causes of sexual violence. As someone who is white and therefore experiences white privilege, I understand the importance of unpacking my privilege to better serve and support prevention initiatives, and this requires patience and humility.

In determining how to best unpack white privilege, I realized I was unable to come up with a one-size-fits-all solution. However, I think this is a good thing. Because I did not have the answer on how to effectively unpack white privilege, I went to members of my community from varying backgrounds to ask for their input. Most responses came back with, “Wow, that’s a tough one,” but would then follow up with what tactics they use or how they address the matter. Though their suggestions shared similarities, all had very different ideas.

When unpacking white privilege and finding ways to call in other white folks, we must remember that we have all had different life experiences and our viewpoints will vary. Below, you will find some principles that can help us through the process.

Our approaches/strategies are not a catchall.

As stated above, our life experiences will vary from person to person due to everyone’s intersecting identities such as employment status, level of education, sexual orientation, physical disability/s, housing situation, and more. We may feel we do not benefit from white privilege because we experience oppression elsewhere. We can bring awareness to how we as white people still continually benefit from our privilege, even though we can also experience oppression by the same systems for other reasons.  Most importantly, we must remember unpacking one’s privilege is not a one-day workshop. This is a process to be mindful of daily. Each day we can choose how we want to break down our privilege. We can choose to be an advocate for those who do not have the same representation, or we can choose to feed the systems in place that continue to oppress those without power or privilege.

Sometimes it may be hard to recognize our white privilege, but in certain situations, it can become clearer to see. For instance, I was pulled over by a State Trooper early one morning for driving above the speed limit. Our interaction was respectful and the second he walked away, after handing me a warning and an “obstruction of view” ticket, I sighed a breath of relief and sat for a moment as I thought about how my privilege as a white person influences my interactions with systems of authority.

Become immersed in voices of Indigenous peoples and People of Color.

While we are taking the time to unpack our white privilege, we can simultaneously choose to step out of the spotlight and immerse ourselves in voices of color. The daily lived experiences of People of Color (POC) shed light on the systemic racism and oppression they face. It is not their responsibility to educate white people, but we can learn from the information they choose to share and reflect on how our white privilege shelters us from similar experiences.

POC’s voices and their work are valuable. Thankfully, there is increasing opportunity to hear and see authentic conversations about these experiences. This can offer an accessible entry point to gaining perspective on experiences different than one’s own. If you are not sure where to start, following are a few shows and books to consider checking out. Listening to and learning from their lived experiences can teach us how we can work together to effectively change the system and support the work already being done by marginalized folks. We can learn by listening to podcasts hosted by POC’s. For example, a great show I’ve been listening to is, “Still Processing,” hosted by Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris who tackle privilege, race, sexuality, and identity (just to name a few) in a way that is palatable and meet the listener where they are. We can watch shows portraying the Black experience, such as “Dear White People” and “Black-ish,” just to name a few. We can read literature, from past and present, focusing on the Black experience and Black feminism, such as “Women, Race & Class” by Angela Y. Davis, or the memoir “Heartberries,” written by Terese Marie Mailhot, which provides an intersectional perspective regarding Indigenous people and mental health.

We become better allies by giving POC’s and Indigenous people the space they deserve by immersing ourselves in their stories and information when and if they choose to share.

Make “unpacking white privilege” part of normal conversations.

When we think about breaking down white privilege there is opportunity to learn not only from and about each other, but also about ourselves. White people can contribute to and support anti-racist efforts by taking accountability. We can learn how to utilize our privilege for the benefit of those who are not given the same platform due to systemic racism and oppression. We can step aside and give that platform to those who have historically been silenced. We can talk to other white people and speak up when we hear or see oppressive behaviors and beliefs perpetuated, whether intentional or not. By acknowledging and being mindful of our white privilege, we can remove the taboo nature of talking about it amongst our peers and we can move towards becoming better allies.

Being an ally requires ongoing work and commitment. By holding each other accountable for our actions, we can continue to push back against oppression and racism. We can all contribute to dismantling power imbalances and ending sexual violence.

 

Rachael O’Brien is an administrative social worker at a Mental Health Supportive Housing Agency in New Jersey. She is devoted to changing the world and dismantling toxic narratives and oppressive norms by leading through example. She is passionate about justice for all peoples, checking her privilege, and challenging herself to be better every day.


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