Not until late in life did I come to understand how my life is framed by white privilege. In fact, this reality influences everything in my life. And if you are white—poor or not—this is also true for you. To reveal and benefit from the paradoxical nature of white privilege, we must explore what white privilege means within the context of our daily lives and how it affects our experience as a human being—a white woman in America, in my case. At some point, those of us who are privileged need to acknowledge this dynamic if we are to live an authentic life. White privilege isn’t in and of itself a paradox; as with any dynamic, it holds within it a paradoxical narrative. And white privilege holds many paradoxical narratives. My privileged life doesn’t mean I have always felt privileged. Therein lies a core paradox: we may have shame or fear, dynamics that drive our experience, but we may not be aware we have them. Once we realize that shame, for example, influences everything in our lives, we can begin to transform our lives. We can turn shame into self-compassion. This is true with white privilege too. Once we become aware of white privilege as a dynamic, we can live more honestly. We can be more fearless and compassionate. We can challenge this dynamic and own up to it through our beliefs, assumptions, and actions. Then, the second layer of paradox arrives: we still are privileged. With shame or fear, we may actually become wholly free of its influence on our lives. This is possible. At least such dynamics no longer drive our experience. White privilege has a culturally set context and cannot simply be shaken off with awareness or practice. The color of our skin—white privilege—follows us to our grave. Still, its paradoxical nature can help us live more honestly and compassionately. As long as we first maintain an awareness of how this dynamic is part of every experience, it may no longer secretly drive our experiences. As we challenge this dynamic internally, we can help change the outer landscape of racial injustices.
Herein arrives the third layer of paradox with white privilege: We can use our white privilege. We can choose to challenge racial injustices we encounter. We can speak up when we see someone being mistreated, bullied, or denied something because of their skin color.
This particular privileged state is just one.
In the words of the poet, Rebecca Cecchini: "There are, of course, many privileged states in our world that could be paradoxically included in this thread, including male privilege, young privilege, hetero privilege, economic privilege (often stemming from the others). These and other privileges so often ride unimpeded under our awareness but affect others deeply. They are part of our social constructs and move through all of us, surfacing wounds as the many “isms” we don’t personally wish to claim. Opportunity abounds here to make broader applications of the paradoxical lessons."
A worthwhile exploration for each of us may be to identify a particular privilege that is current in our life. There are simple approaches we can use to challenge and shift our privileged states and all of our contradictions to help us find contradictions’ inherent paradoxes. Write about that.
What are the paradoxes inherent in some of your stories and experiences? Write about that.
SAVE THE DATE: Laurie Scheer and I are finishing up the final plans for what this year will be Write-by-the-LIGHT. Since the UW Continuing Studies, Writing Program is closing, last year was the last WBTLake. However Laurie Scheer, myself, Angela Rydell and Tim Storm will be offering a superb and dynamic WBTLIGHT!.
Laurie and I will be offering a full retreat/workshop experience to choose from. There will be optional sessions with Tim Storm and Angela Rydell. And an open mike night, one yoga class for writers from Molly Chanson, as well as ways to meet up with other writers. For those who live near Madison, I will hold one in person meet up “on the lake, in the light.” Investment: $225. . And! Laurie and I will be offering a consultation on 10 pages for free afterward for all who sign up.
This will be great. It will be live and ZOOMED. The dates are June 16th through Saturday (till 4:00) the 19th.