Many times, the forms of oppression that are the most deeply ingrained and the most difficult to confront are those that are perpetrated by people who are unaware of the reality of their power and privilege. If we never intentionally address the ways in which our privilege is exercised, we will never be able to discover how our actions and attitudes impact the people around us.
Reesheda N. Washington, Executive Director of the Communities First Association and a presenter at the 2015 Inhabit Conference, works to train local leaders who are attuned to the needs of their communities and are equipped to conduct sustainable, asset-based community development practices. Here, she suggests that many people—particularly people of privilege—have never been asked to consider the impact that they have on others.
“As privileged people become more aware of the effect that the way they live produces for other people, they become more open to hearing about what they’ve done, they become more open to think about how it affects people they haven’t had to consider.”
We’re talking about subtle, day-to-day habits and attitudes that affect others in ways we might never notice. Change at this level requires personal reflection and brutal honesty. On a community-wide scale, it is slow, difficult work.
“If we don’t know what we don’t know, then we’ll never do anything different than we’ve always done. So exposing people to a new layer of awareness in terms of what their behavior produces, even in attempting to help, gives them an opportunity to do something different than what they’ve done before.”