My friends, like the title says, I’m a white straight, middle class man. As such I am deeply, deeply privileged. I am aware of some of my privilege and completely unaware of so many more. Even so, like many of you, I’ve been rocked very strongly by recent events regarding the senseless killings of oppressed people in the US ….and, of course, police. I feel sick deep inside. I suspect many of you do, too. I am the father of three daughters (one of them Latina) and three granddaughters (one of them is 50% Native American). I have huge fear for their safety and for their future. Part of me feels hopeless and powerless to do anything effective to help. Having meaningful conversations about these issues feels increasingly fruitless and futile. People I love and call friends seem to be too polarized, too quick to defend and judge. The political process happening in our country is only deepening divides. Marching in protests feels good (Though suddenly much more dangerous!) and may offer some support to my oppressed Brothers and Sisters, same for manning a table in the local Gay Pride celebration or Black Lives Matter event, but it doesn’t seem to me to be enough….not nearly enough!
Like so very many across this nation, I ache. My heart hurts. My soul is in pain. I am angry and scared. And my mind is confused. Just in the last few weeks we’ve been rocked by Orlando, MN, LA, Dallas- and the list goes on and on. And here’s my solemn truth: I cannot- WILL NOT- sit idly by anymore! But, what to do?? Action seems to be required. ‘Thoughts and prayers’ are simply not enough! How can I be effective and helpful? What can one man or woman do?
Should I instigate some project to address oppression in my not-for-profit men’s service organization, called the ManKind Project (mkp.org)? Will that international institution respond? Should it? Can it? Can I bring this to my men’s circle, my meditation group or some other organization? Should I offer a training on multicultural awareness? To whom? Where? Should I join an organization dedicated to ending oppression? Or get more active in the ones I’m already a member of? (I’m a member of the NAACP, the HRC, NOW and Black Lives Matter- all great change agents.) Should I write a blog or another book? Is that enough?? I profess to be a ‘Man of Mission’ and my Mission screams to me, “NO”!
I CANNOT let my many privileges and my unconsciousness stand in the way. I CANNOT wait for all my conditioning about what is right and who is valuable or who is dangerous to be challenged or disappear. I CANNOT wait for ANY organization to respond or show me what to do. I CANNOT allow my overwhelm to push me into passiveness. I CANNOT keep on doing what I’ve been doing. I CANNOT allow my hopelessness to stand in the way. I CANNOT allow that voice that so easily dismisses my actions as useless to take precedence. I CANNOT let my outrage drain my energy- and think that’s enough! I CANNOT. I CANNOT! So, back to my original question: But, what to do??
Here’s a start for me: I CAN do more. I CAN continue to read and learn about oppression and how it corrodes our society to its very core. I CAN continue to reach out to Black and Latino folks, LGBTQ folks, women and other oppressed people. I CAN continue to dive deeply into my own beliefs and unconscious assumptions. I CAN overcome my lethargy, my hopelessness and my helplessness. I CAN stand up. I CAN take the risk to speak out as an ALLY to people of color, LGBTQ folks, women, the homeless, poor people, veterans and, yes, even the police. I CAN activate and LIVE my Mission. I CAN. I CAN! And this brings me back to my original question once again: But, what to do?? What to do??
My Mission of Service is to Create a Passionately Loving and Peaceful Planet by Leading Safe, Sacred, Diverse Healing Circles. I discovered this Mission, my personal Mission in life, from work I’ve done in the ManKind Project, my spiritual practice and my soul’s longing. I believe this is why I am on this planet. This is my primary life’s work. I have attempted to live that Mission in many ways. I lead trainings and safe circles in several different venues and countries- often. I write books, blogs and articles like this one. I speak often on these topics- especially to people of privilege like me. Is that enough? Clearly not!
So, again, I ask myself: But, what to do?? It often feels deeply like “I don’t know! I have nothing to offer.” Perhaps what I’m really feeling is, “Who am I to attempt to help? What does this highly privileged male have to say that’s original or that has any value?” Or maybe, “Who will listen? Who will attack me as being ‘Politically Correct’ or a race, gender or orientation traitor?” Ahhh- that persistent inner voice raises its ugly head again to block me from doing anything!! No more paralysis, dammit! No more!
I believe change takes ACTION, not just words! I believe consistent commitment to change and equality at the personal, institutional and cultural levels is required. What am I waiting for? So here’s what I am going to do today: I am writing this article as an antidote to my helplessness and as an act to living my Mission just a bit more in the world. I will post it in my blogs (www.VibrantRelationshipsGuy.com and www.SevenGenerationsStory.com) and on Facebook and Linked in and Twitter. I will share some of my learning about some small, simple, yet brilliant and affective steps/behaviors I, and you, can do today to start (or continue) acting as an effective ally. It doesn’t require a large, multi-million dollar project or even an institution to support me/you. These options aren’t death defying or expensive. They’re not rocket science! So, please join me. Take action. Let’s just commit to do ONE of these behaviors today. Together. I believe if every one of us just chooses to do one behavior from the lists I share below (Lists that were created by people much smarter than me! My teachers and mentors.), then incremental change CAN occur! I commit to doing at least one of these behaviors each day- every day.
A.Five Healthy Behaviors for Ending Oppression
(>From Dr. Valerie Batts and VISIONS, Inc. www.visions-inc.org)
- Make mutual contact with people who are different from you. Reach out.
- Notice those differences.
- Learn, Ask about and Notice the impact of those differences.
- Offer Functional Helping.
- Mutually Problem Solve and take Responsibility.
And there’s more!
B. Behaviors of an Effective Ally
(From: “Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook“, by Adam, Griffin and Bell. (modified by Dennis Nicely and Rick Broniec))
- Have a vision of and celebrate a healthy, vibrant multicultural society. Isn’t that why we’re all doing this work in the first place?
- Work to change system-wide problems that may be the root causes of inequality and oppression. This might include issues at the institutional or cultural levels, as well as the personal and interpersonal levels.
- Support the value of separate meetings, events and activities for members of Target groups. Targets need a safe place to do their Internalized Oppressions work, while Non-Targets need a safe place to do their “Isms” work. This makes it safer and cleaner to do our work together!
- Try not to be self-righteous with others- it only pushes them away from doing their own work. Also, try not to label others as “racist”, “sexist”, “homophobic”, “classist”, etc.
- Interrupt prejudice and take action against oppression even when people from Target groups are not present.
- Know resources about and for Target groups and utilize them to educate yourself and others. Form coalitions and support circles.
- Learn about and take pride in your own identities. Work on celebrating your own differences and the qualities you have gained as a result of having that difference.
- Seek out and enlist others to be allies; be the first to make a move!
- Acknowledge and take responsibility for his/her own socialization, prejudices and privileges without shame or blame, as we all learned these behaviors from our culture.
- Listen openly and respectfully to people different from you.
- Actively pursue a process of self-education to learn about the history and culture of target groups. Read, attend meetings, watch movies and talk to individuals representing target groups.
- Respectfully ask members of a target group what support would look like for them as an individual. This lessens the chances of a ‘dysfunctional rescue’ from happening.
- Be willing to examine and relinquish privileges. This requires support and time.
- Establish friendships with people who represent Target groups you do not identify with. Reach out respectfully and make contact!
- Take a public stand against discrimination and prejudice. Start small and work into more risky actions as you grow more confident.
- Risk discomfort- discomfort is guaranteed when doing this work!
- Gently and respectfully challenge the internalized oppression of people in Target groups.
- Promote the leadership of people in groups that traditionally are not found in leadership positions due to their Target status(es). (This may mean giving up your own leadership in these organizations.)
- Develop alliances among groups. This would be a strong institutional level action.
- Also, look to ways to be an ally within your own cultural groups. (For example, a white man supporting other white men to work on their white and male privileges.)
These behaviors seem pretty simple, right? Not so complicated if we look at the individual behavioral level. I don’t need a PhD. in diversity to effectively try out these behaviors. And just for today, it feels right and powerful and helpful to embrace one or more of these behaviors. It’s an antidote to feeling helpless, hopeless, frustrated and angry. Try them on- any one! Join me in saying, “No More!” Please join me in standing up for effective change and a healthier society. Join me as an Ally. Do this for your children and grandchildren. Do this for your family or neighborhood or town or state. There’s not enough of us, but more each day!