Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Social Justice Event

“L.I.F.E (Live Inspire Fight Educate) is committed to help bring about a culture in which we can address common global concerns in a positive, holistic and transforming way and live together in peace with one another.” The L.I.F.E Conference on March 26 is the social justice event that I chose to attend. It was held all day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and included seven sessions, five of which I attended. The conference was based on the issues of diversity and our society’s way of life. Three major topics talked about were: privilege, stereotyping, and diversity.

The topic of privilege was brought up twice in the day, by Anthony Bailiey and Dr. Bogad - each time in a different sense.

Anthony Bailey’s session was about understanding privilege. Each of us shared what we thought privilege was and together we tried to figure out a basic definition. Some words that came up during the discussion were: responsibility, opportunity, rights, discrimination, permission, and automatic. By the end of the session we felt the best way to describe privilege is by saying it is the better side of a comparison to everyone else. It relates to the statement Johnson had made in his article called Privilege, Power, and Difference: “Privilege is always at someone else’s expense and always exacts a cost.” (10)

Dr. Bogad’s session was more about privilege and power in general. She had discussed the different types of power that make up today's modern society: hegemony, disciplinary, and interpersonal power. When discussing this, a Caucasian woman had actually commented and said how the term ‘white privilege’ really makes her angry. Earlier that day, she had explained that because of the difficult life she had growing up and raising a family on her own, the term goes right to heart. She felt that ‘white privilege’ does pertain to every single white person. I understand where she’s coming from but I feel that if she learned more about white privilege and its existence then she would be a little less offensive with the term. As Johnson would say: “…if we dispense with the words we make it impossible to talk about what’s really going on and what it has to do with us.” (2) I would also relate her reaction to McIntosh’s article titled White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack because there’s a chance that she is carrying around this knapsack unconsciously, but I can’t speak for her.

Here’s an example of McIntosh’s invisible knapsack theory…

One activity had to do with difference. There were four big pieces of paper each labeled something different: masculine, feminine, black, and white. What happened was, everyone went to each paper and wrote down their thoughts on each topic, what came to mind when they heard the term. Here are some examples of what came to mind:

Masculine – dominant, aggressive, assertive, patriarchy, strength, power, embracing femininity as well

Feminine – beauty, strength, curvy, soft, pretty, sexy, powerful, dainty, caring, sensitivity, weak, delicacy, perseverance, seeing through fear, yin and yang, typical female roles (teacher, nurse, mother)

Black – hope, color, first, strength, beautiful, solid, awesome, struggle, Martin Luther, why is black and white listed here? what about everyone else?

White – privileged, strong, powerful, snobby, girly, weak
After looking over the lists I noticed many different perspectives, both negative and positive, on each topic. What I would like to know is who said what. What did the men say about the women, and vice versa? What did the white people say about blacks, and vice versa?

This discussion on stereotyping made me think about Joseph Kahne and Joel Westheimer’s article, ‘In The Service Of What? The Politics of Service Learning’. I felt that maybe these stereotypical views would have changed and combined together if everyone had gotten some experience in each other’s world. As said in their article: “In so doing, we create opportunities for changing our understanding of the other and the context within which he or she lives.” (5) Kahne and Westheimer also talks about the importance of reflection - talking about their opinions and experiences – which is something we did as a group at this event, but without having any real insight or experience on the topic.

The people at the conference made the event very diverse by itself. There was a mixture of races and each presenter at the event was of a different nationality: Caucasian, African American, Native American, Korean, and Hispanic. I believe that diversity is key to having a better future because it gives the opportunity for insight into another’s world. By having presenters of different ethnic groups, the audience was given many different views on each topic.

Since the event took place at Rhode Island College, where there is a large and very diverse student body, I began to ask myself if this event would have turned out differently if it took place at a college where Caucasian’s took up the schools ratio. Throughout the day we had many group discussions that included the opinions of those of various backgrounds. This event was done at a very diverse school, what would be the turn out of this event otherwise? If most of the audience had been white, would many of the opinions actually turn out to be very similar to each other?

This is Christopher Johnson's Facebook page… here you can read many of his poems and see a video reciting one of them.

I liked this event a lot because they really got the audience involved and thinking. Everyone got to share their opinions about all the matters brought up. It was a very active event, being that they had games and activities where everyone could get up, move around, meet new people and express their feelings. I also liked how they brought about different topics with poems. They had a couple of really good poets that shared their views and insight on the different issues we had talked about. It was a really fun and productive event, a lot like FNED class.