Saturday, January 17, 2015

Walk a Few Hundred Pages in Someone Else's Shoes (Natasha Sinel)

Some people view the phrase “check your privilege” as an accusation. But it really isn’t.

Just ask yourself this one simple question: “What do I have that I didn’t earn?” That’s checking your privilege. See? That wasn’t so bad, was it? (see this New Yorker article).

By becoming aware of our privileges, we learn and accept what makes us who we are—the opportunities we've been given versus what we've earned—and we begin to understand challenges others face that are different from our own.

Privilege (and diversity) covers everything—race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, body type, native language, religion, socioeconomics, level of education, physical disability, neurological disability, mental illness, learning disability, victimization. The list goes on.

I was fascinated by this article about a teacher who used a simple way to explain privilege (in this case, economic privilege) to his students. A bin at the front of the room represented the chance to become wealthy. In order to move to the upper class, the students had to throw a crumpled piece of paper into the bin. Of course, the students in the front row had no problem getting their shots in, but the back row was far away, and only a few made it in. The teacher concluded: “The closer you were to the recycling bin, the better your odds. This is what privilege looks like. Did you notice how the only ones who complained about fairness were in the back of the room?”


Who's got the advantage?


This is the thing: The people in the front row have to advocate for the people in the back row. Or nothing will change. And here's the first step: Care. Be aware and respectful. Start by reading.

Walk a few hundred pages in someone else's shoes.

Read BROWN GIRL DREAMING. Read PERFECTLY GOOD WHITE BOY. Read GIRLS LIKE US. Read NICKEL AND DIMED. Read TO THE END OF JUNE. Read ANYTHING BUT TYPICAL and MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD. Read TWO BOYS KISSING. Read ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN. Read TO ALL THE BOYS I'VE LOVED BEFORE. Read A BLUE SO DARK. Read FAULT LINE and SPEAK. Read WONDER and SAY WHAT YOU WILL. (For more suggestions, go to http://weneeddiversebooks.org.)

I want my kids to check their privilege, too. They’re young still, and media messages are chock full of stereotypes, but I’m confident they’ll get it if we are consistent in teaching them to be aware and respectful, and if we keep giving them diverse books. And, who knows, maybe they’ll figure out the solutions someday.

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