Objective: You will be able to recognize your own privileges and use them to benefit disadvantaged communities, which strengthens your business and its community connections.
Who are you? We’ve talked a lot about who you are in the context of your business, but we haven’t talked in depth about who you are in the context of society and the world. Today, we’re going to think and learn about how our different identities shape our and others’ experiences of life. We’ll do this using a modified toolkit from the University of Southern California.
Before beginning, it’s important that everyone have a basic understanding of two core concepts related to privilege and identity. This gives us a foundation upon which to build future knowledge.
The first core concept is culture, which is:
- The integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.
- A set of shared attitudes, values, goals and practices that characterizes a group of individuals or an institution or organization.
The second core concept is identity, which is:
- Distinguishing characteristics.
- The condition of being the same with something described or asserted.
We all have multiple identities. Age, gender, religious or spiritual affiliation, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status are all identities. Some identities are things people can see easily (like race or assumed gender), while other identities are internalized and are not always easy to see (like a disability, socioeconomic status, or education level).
There are two categories of identities that we need to understand to address privilege and oppression. The first category, “agent” identity, deals with identities that are part of a dominant status — while the second, “target” identity, includes identities that are part of a discriminated status.
Agent: Members of dominant social groups privileged by birth or acquisition who knowingly or unknowingly exploit and reap unfair advantage over members of the target groups.
Target: Members of social identity groups who are discriminated against, marginalized, disenfranchised, oppressed, exploited by an oppressor and oppressor’s system of institutions without identity apart from the target group, and compartmentalized in defined roles.
Oppression arises where:
- An agent group has the power to define and name reality, and determine what is normal, real and correct.
- Differential and unequal treatment is institutionalized and systematic.
- Psychological colonization of the target group occurs through socializing the oppressed to internalize their oppressed condition.
- The target group’s culture, language and history is misrepresented, discounted or eradicated, and the dominant group culture is imposed.
- Oppression (the “ism’s” – racism, sexism, ableism, etc) happens at all levels, reinforced by societal norms, institutional biases, interpersonal interactions and individual beliefs.
- Individual — feelings, beliefs, values.
- Interpersonal — actions, behaviors and language.
- Institutional — legal system, education system, public policy, hiring practices, media images.
- Societal/Cultural — collective ideas about what is “right.”
Most people are a target and an agent of oppression. This could be because they hold some identities that confer them unearned privilege and others that are discriminated against. It could also be because people internalize subordination and domination.
Here are some examples of types of oppression, along with their corresponding target group and non-target groups. Typically, people in non-target groups at least passively participate in the oppression of the target group. To not participate in the oppression, non-target people must be active allies.
**insert the table image that lists a bunch of types, targets, and non-targets**
How to be an active ally. There is not one way to be an active ally. Every context, every community, every individual you are an ally to will have their own needs and desires. However, there are some basic principles allies should follow. Here are some very valuable insights from Amélie Lamont’s Guide to Allyship:
To be an ally is to…
- Take on the struggle as your own.
- Transfer the benefits of your privilege to those who lack it.
- Amplify voices of the oppressed before your own.
- Acknowledge that even though you feel pain, the conversation is not about you.
- Stand up, even when you feel scared.
- Own your mistakes and de-center yourself.
- Understand that your education is up to you and no one else.
And here are some of Lamont’s basic Do’s and Dont’s for an ally:
- Do be open to listening
- Do be aware of your implicit biases
- Do your research to learn more about the history of the struggle in which you are participating
- Do the inner work to figure out a way to acknowledge how you participate in oppressive systems
- Do the outer work and figure out how to change the oppressive systems
- Do use your privilege to amplify (digitally and in-person) historically suppressed voices
- Do learn how to listen and accept criticism with grace, even if it’s uncomfortable
- Do the work every day to learn how to be a better ally
- Do not expect to be taught or shown. Take it upon yourself to use the tools around you to learn and answer your questions
- Do not participate for the gold medal in the “Oppression Olympics” (you don’t need to compare how your struggle is “just as bad as” a marginalized person’s)
- Do not behave as though you know best
- Do not take credit for the labor of those who are marginalized and did the work before you stepped into the picture
- Do not assume that every member of an underinvested community feels oppressed
Now it’s time to start thinking about your identities, the agent groups to which you belong, how you can become a better ally, and how you can design your business to use your privilege to benefit oppressed target groups. All of this will improve your community relations, grow your community, set your business up for success, and make the world a better place. The learning you have done today is only the beginning – if you have agent identities, you should be thinking about and acting on this every day.
- Introduce yourself: write out your fullest name and your personal and ancestral story. Here are some questions that can help ー Who gave you your name? Why that name? Do you know the ethnic origin of your name? Do you have any nicknames? If so, how did you get them? What is your preferred name?
- On the back of the piece of paper write the top three identities you feel closest to. For each target identity, write the corresponding agent or non-target identity. For each agent or non-target identity, write the corresponding target identity.
- Read this privilege checklist. Write down some of your privileges from the list. Were you surprised by any of these privileges?
- Read the Guide to Allyship. Make an action plan with at least one ally action per day for the next 7 days. These actions can include joining local ally groups, supporting protests led by people of target identities, getting your friends and family to educate themselves by reading the Guide to Allyship or other materials shared here, donating to movements led by people of target identities, and more.
- Make a list of ways your business will fight oppression now and in the future. If you are part of any agent identities, your business needs to support and benefit people of the corresponding target identities.