In today’s Tuesday chat I speak about taking responsibility as the antidote to a world that’s almost exclusively focused on expressing blame and outrage.
I speak both about the ways that people in positions of privilege are refusing to take responsibility and the ways people who are not in positions of privilege are expected to take on too much responsibility. (NB: The internet connection cut out toward the end. So expect an abrupt halt to the conversation.)
- Where am I not taking responsibility for the privileges I experience in society?
- Where am I taking on too much responsibility on behalf of others experiencing privilege?
Question 1: Where am I not taking responsibility for the privileges I experience in society?
If you’ve ever found yourself being yelled at by a person who experiences less privilege than you, this is a key moment to start taking responsibility. Whether it’s in an interaction with a homeless person when you have a comfortable home to go to, or in discussions with an Indigenous person when you’re not Indigenous.
For example, on my first day working at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs I called a number of community members to introduce myself as I was going to be working very closely with them over the next year.
The first person I spoke to, when they realised I was a young white woman, yelled at me and called me a c…. (I don’t like normalising gendered insults so am not going to name it.) Initially that upset me. It felt very personal. Like an attack on me. (Which, it turns out, is the standard response of all people entrenched in their privilege.)
Then I realised that of course this wasn’t about me. I was being treated as a representative of a group of people, just as Aboriginal people are always being seen as their group first, and as individuals second.
So here I was, yet another gubba (representative of the Government) poking their nose into Aboriginal people’s business. Probably with a saviour complex. Definitely with a choice about how invested I would become and with the option of walking away at any time. I was also working from a comfortable office with all the resources of Government at my disposal, while asking them to continue their involvement in the project, without any expectation of remuneration.
So I had a choice in that moment; entrench myself in my white perspective or choose to see a different perspective.
Here’s the perspective I opened to; in a context where non-Indigenous people have stolen Indigenous people’s land, culture, and children, it’s actually incredibly galling to have a white woman call you up out of the blue and talk to you about your culture and your land. In fact, it’s deeply offensive.
The longer I sat with that thought, the more clearly I saw that my very existence constituted violence toward the Aboriginal person on the other end of the phone.
I am the problem. At the very least, I represent the problem.
So this is the invitation to all people who experience any level of privilege; get out of your own paradigm and put yourself in someone else’s for a bit. You might be surprised to find that in a world that’s obsesses with stories about ‘goodies’ and baddies’ you’re not on the side you might have assumed you would be.
Question 2: Where am I taking on too much responsibility on behalf of others experiencing privilege?
If you’ve ever found yourself – as a woman – saying ‘But not all men!’ this is a classic example of taking too much responsibility. Men don’t need you to fight their battles just as white people don’t need black people or people of colour to fight their battles. It’s actually a little bit absurd to assume they do. They have entire systems operating to promote and defend their perspective and their privilege.
Women on the other hand, do need to see what a sovereign woman, standing in her power and claiming space looks like. Black people need to see what a sovereign person of colour, standing in their power and claiming space looks like. Disabled people need to see other disabled people unapologetically using their voices and claiming their spaces. The LGBTIA community needs to see people in positions of power thanking their same sex partner, kissing their same sex partner at an acceptance speech, and confidently and joyfully holding hands with their same sex partner as they walk down the street.
You’re not doing anyone any favours by defending the privileged. You are however, harming those who are fighting to have their voices, their perspectives, and their stories heard.
Final note; when I speak in the video about how to educate yourself as a person of privilege, I speak about seeking support from other people of privilege who aren’t asked everyday to carry that load. In that statement I was assuming that unpaid labour was taking place. An even better option would be pursuing a paid option with Indigenous people and people of colour who are teaching anti-race work. We will be putting a list of such people together on the School of Visibility website. If there are people you know who would be great to have on that list, please let us know in the comments beneath this video.