Stop & Listen!
Start by listening to stories, complaints, and concerns, realizing that just because what you are hearing is so far outside your experience that it sounds incredible, doesn’t mean it’s not true. Consider the implications of every word they are saying being true.
Acknowledge the Difference
Acknowledge that your life experience is different. Acknowledge that people will tend to defer to you if you are male, affluent, light-skinned, tall, classically attractive, athletic, well dressed, and/or have a college degree or official title or uniform. Continue by acknowledging that NONE of those things make your opinions, stories, or experiences any more valuable than anyone else’s. None of these things make you any better or any worse than anyone else.
Learn about Other Perspectives
Consider that, just as you may have a perspective that you think others participating in the conversation haven’t heard, there are as many perspectives in that conversation as there are people – and the only way to hear them is to close your mouth and open your ears.
Check Your Motives
Consider also your motives for being in the conversation in the first place – is it to influence others to change their behavior or to discover ways you can change yours? Is it to cause others to do something you want them to do, or figure out how to apply your skills and resources for their benefit? Are you there to help others or push your own agenda? If you are really there to help, then do less talking and more listening.
Don’t Hog the Conversation
You want to be heard. Everyone does. Realize that you have the privelege of being heard in many other ways and situations; you don’t need to make this conversation about you. Consider it a reasearch project, and learn as much as you can about the others in the conversation and their story.
Others will defer to you. They will ask what you think. Not only is it polite, but people have been taught by centuries of society dominated by the affluent, male authority, and racist values to defer to you. Do not take it as license. Be there to learn. Be there to listen. Your voice will be heard in a thousand other ways from a thousand other sources – You will have many many other opportunities to make your opinion known. That is a part of privilege. We get to pretty much say whatever we want whenever and wherever we want with little or no consequences. So use some restraint and stay silent. Politely decline to comment, and listen.
Put Your Pain in Perspective
Lastly this – and this is the hardest part – when the pain comes – and if you are really listening it will come – when the reality of injustice prejudice and your own privilege finally hits you and your heart starts to break, realize that you’re not the only one. You’re just getting you first taste for the of what others have been dealing with their whole lives.
One of the first things you will learn by doing this is a very difficult truth to face. It is this: the playing field is not level. The game is not fair. The odds are stacked in your favor, and have been for a very long time. Are there white men who are homeless and poor? Yes. Are there white men who have been victims of injustice? Yes. But that does not mean all things are equal. Just because being a white man isn’t a free ticket to easy street doesn’t mean that we have it just as hard as anyone else. In fact, as hard as life is, as fraught with difficulties and injustices as it is, it’s still a hell of a lot harder if you’re not a white man.
Confront Your Disbelief
Don’t believe me? Ask yourself why. Is it because that just hasn’t been your experience? Of course it isn’t. You just don’t see it? Of course you don’t. That’s my point. That’s our privilege. That’s why I am suggesting that we stop and listen to those who have had that experience – who do see it. It’s still up to you what you think, do, and believe; but if you want those thoughts actions and beliefs to be informed and serve more than just “you and yours,” then please, stop and listen.
Take Action: Guilt Does Not Help Anyone
Finally, don’t waste time on shame or guilt – those are cop-outs and don’t excuse you from taking action. Find something to do. Find a way of using your talents skills and privilege to benefit others. Don’t give up if you can’t find anything right away either. “There’s nothing I can do,” is just another cop-out. Just another excuse. Keep listening, keep looking. You will find something. It may not be earth shattering, you may not single handedly end world wide prejudice for all time, but don’t stop. Make it part of your life. If you’ve really recognized injustice and your own privilege, then listening and acting is not a one time thing. It’s a skill you develop through practice. It’s something you just do now.