Hello Dear Readers!
For my first (real) blog post as the Dwight Greene Intern for Diversity and Community Engagement, I wanted to give everyone that reads this blog a contextual understanding of not only what I’ll be doing this year but also what my personal feelings are towards the work that I do and the cycles that I wish to interrupt. In order to do this, I want to consider a term that is loaded with connotations: “Privilege.” What does it mean to be privileged in relation to other people in the world and, more immediately, in relation to our peers on this campus?
Before I go any further, I’d like to insert my own personal belief that by simply attending a school like Wesleyan in which we all live on campus in relatively small proximity to any basic need, consistently interact with stellar faculty, and interact with one another, we all have what I’d like to call “functioning privilege” which simply refers to privilege that is in action as we exist on campus without us doing anything about it one way or the other.
However, what I’d like to challenge all of you to consider is how much you actually consider that privilege. Is it something that you take for granted or wear on your shoulder? Does the fact that we have people to clean up after us strike you as peculiar or something that you don’t think about at all? My point in asking all of this is to get us to consider together not if we have privilege, but how it functions for all of us during our time at Wes. I think to do this correctly, however, it is necessary to reconsider something that I stated earlier: what is our privilege in relation to one another?
While I know that my title may be a bit unnerving, I don’t want anyone to think that privilege on its own is anything to be ashamed of. I’ve already stated that it functions in all of our lives so that’s certainly not what I’m stating here. What I am saying, and what I was setting off in my title, is that there is a point at which privilege becomes something more than “functioning” and goes into what I’d call “active” mode, in which we are actively working to perpetuate our privilege, often at the expense of others. The most powerful form of this, in my opinion, is willful ignorance.
Willful ignorance, as I’m going to simplify it, is actually characterized by an unwillingness to acknowledge or understand how privilege and social power function in your life. It’s one thing to benefit from the “isms” of the world. Its another thing altogether to view anyone that is willing to call those benefits out as abhorrent or “radical”
Over the course of this year, I’ll be working to break down many of the misconceptions related to things that I have experienced and I’m sure that we have all gone through (although not necessarily consciously). However, anything that I do bring up will be a function of unpacking the dangers of willful ignorance. Breaking down this false equation of ignoring racist, sexist, classist, homophobic etc. statements to actually not being any of those things, will be the focus of all the work that I do. Thank you for coming along for the ride.