“Giving Up” Privilege and the Nature of Change

In my antiracism and anti-oppression work I often hear people—dominant and subordinated folks alike—talk about the need for whites, men, heterosexuals, the wealthy and others similarly privileged groups to just “give up” their privilege.

I just have to say, though…

One cannot give up privilege, gender or racial or any other form. I cannot give up male privilege any more than I can give up being subordinated as a Latino in a racialized society.

The idea of “giving up” privilege is fundamentally flawed. Privilege is not an object than one possesses; it is not a thing that is earned or purchased; it is not something that can be given up or given away. Privilege is a condition of social power, a status that is granted by oppressive society. And as such, privilege can be used either to perpetuate oppression or to change it. But it cannot be “given up.”

The notion of “giving up” privilege is also flawed in how it conceives the process of change. Change, or human growth, is developmental: a psychosocial process. The notion of “giving up white privilege” speaks to the process of racial identity development. Yet social and racial identity development is not a linear process, moving from one stage to the next through which one drops or leaves behind all characteristics of the previous stages. Racial and social identity development involves an expansion of perspectives, the shifting of attitudes, and adopting new behaviors that are more appropriate and functional to that new perspective, meanwhile carrying all that came before in all previous stages.

But because one always carries the stuff—ideas, beliefs, values, feelings, attitudes, behaviors—of previous stages, it is quite easy to be triggered and “regress,” operating out of old patterns one may have thought to have outgrown. This is why, from our positions of privilege relative to others, we must always remain vigilant. [BTW: This principle also applies to internalized inferiority, the psychological counterpart to internalized superiority of privileged social identity groups.]

To be clear, though, one cannot give up privilege. Not only because its coding cannot be deleted or erased from our body-minds, but because the coding of oppression is also embedded and operates in the minds of others at various stages of in their own social identity and social behavior. Furthermore, racism, like sexism and class oppression, is fully operational and as alive as ever in our institutions and in the dominant collective consciousness we call culture. Privilege is a function of power, beyond personal identity, critical consciousness or even anti-oppression values or  intention.

Now, as individuals, or better yet, as organized groups of privileged folks, people can use their privilege responsibly, accountably, for the benefit of the oppressed and, ultimately, toward the development of all people and for the transformation of collective consciousness and culture.

However, the idea of “giving up privilege” is a false proposition: it is a mental set-up for failure. It does not actually further anti-racist anti-oppression work, but rather creates further obstacles in the form of personal and interpersonal frustration, a sense of impossibility, of futility. It is useless.

So, how about, instead, we give up the notion of “giving up” privilege. How about we use it. Responsibly. For the liberation of all beings. For the transformation of human culture.

Pause… Reflect… Realign… Respond!!!

At the end of each year and the beginning of the new one, for some time now, I have been doing what has become my annual ritual review and envisioning journaling process. More than ask myself, “So, what did I accomplish this past year?” or “What are my goals for the new one?”, I deeply consider: “Where have I been?”, “What have I learned?” and “Where do I intend to go this coming year?” The questions beneath the questions, though, are more like, “Am I still on course with my life purpose? Is the direction of my gaze and my vision aligned with my core values and my true heart, still, at this stage of my life? What in me or in my life must I tweak or, perhaps, change altogether, in the context of the events and realities unfolding before me?”

Typically, this process may take me a few days. Sometimes up to a whole week. For some reason, though, this year it’s taking me somewhat longer. Maybe it’s because of my emergent elder identity, especially given the implications of aging in the material(istic) world. Probably. Or perhaps it’s because of all the important issues and global challenges of the past year to consider, among them: the Arab Spring; the Occupy Movement (dare we say the US Autumn or, as some suggest, the beginning of the Fall of Capitalism as we know it?); fraking, tar sands and cross-continental pipelines; the US wars on Iraq and Afghanistan; Wikileaks controversies, Anonymous takedowns, and the increased use of information technologies and social media in the shaping of world events. These are piled on top of the historic, on-going and ever-increasing disparities between whites and People of Color, between the wealthy and the poor, particularly of the women and children of these disempowered social groups in the US and its colonies. Clearly, racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism and all forms of oppression are as alive and well as ever as we enter 2012.

I think my process is taking longer this year because I’m still trying to gauge the impact of current events on our present collective circumstance, and to understand their significance for our times. Might we actually be experiencing a shift in the nature and scope of social movement? Or, more significantly, might this moment represent a leap in our collective human consciousness? Either way, it seems to me to be a moment of tremendous potentiality for social justice and for cultural transformation; a moment requiring keen awareness and focused intentionality.

Every place I go, everywhere I turn my head, I see and hear people trying to make sense of the changes occurring before our eyes; trying to find their rightful place in a chaotic world; trying to redefine their role and contribution to a society that should serve us all better.

Sometime last September, my 19-year old son, who had just begun his first semester at UPR, observed, almost lamenting, that there seemed to be no worldwide social upheaval, cultural movement or political revolution happening like back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The lead singer in a thrash metal band (don’t ask!), a film buff and an avid reader, he’s quite knowledgeable about that time period and its on-going impact on world cultures. [Having a boomer father who is also into rock, movies and books doesn’t hurt, I guess.] I tried to remind him that, indeed, major events and changes were happening all over the world, though mostly beyond US mainstream/corporate media’s lenses, that seemed to indicate we were in the midst of a major transformation: the Arab popular uprisings; massive protests across Europe; radical shifts in social, economic, political and environmental policy throughout Latin America. Even at home in Puerto Rico, with the widespread adoption of anti-colonial language in public discourse, the growing environmental and food sovereignty movements, not to mention a new participatory democracy and leadership emerging among students at his university.

I shared with him attitudes that I, as well as his mother (an international anti-oppression organizer and cultural transformer), encounter on a regular basis in our work and travels: that ordinary people working with others—in schools and colleges, in social service agencies and institutions, in business, in media, in religious and spiritual houses of worship, in counseling and health centers—are eagerly, often times desperately, trying to grapple with the complexities created by the multiple, simultaneous and multi-layered oppressions we endure in this time. These are ordinary people trying to understand the historical context of today’s problems. People across institutional hierarchies trying to correct the disparate and disproportional impact of institutional policies. Ordinary people working to correct economic inequities and social injustice. Ordinary people bringing healing and well-being to the lives of others. And in the process, seeking to bring greater balance and harmony into their own lives.

One thing is for sure: it is not easy to connect the dots of all that’s going on, or to make sense of such great complexity, especially when we are caught up in its midst, just as it is occurring all around us… and inside us… all at once! As I said, I, too, am still trying to sort it out, particularly as it concerns the role and function of my work in support of people in social justice and cultural transformation movement.

What is clear to me is that indeed we are in the midst of an upheaval, a shift in consciousness. An exciting time of change and, as I said earlier, of great potentiality! A time and an opportunity to deeply examine our place and role in the processes that are unfolding within and before us.

And while there may not be definitive answers (are such answers even possible?), the consciousness-in-action approach offers an appropriate response: a framework and a process for deepening our development as leaders for these times.

As we enter 2012, at c-Integral we are gearing our programs to this end. In late Spring, Rose Sackey-Milligan and I will be holding our first Spiraling into Oneness weekend retreat, funded in part by Kalliopeia Foundation. Meanwhile, we continue to seek additional grants and donations for other retreats and workshops throughout the year in both the US and in Puerto Rico.

I invite you to come join us at c-Integral’s events, including the thematic talks and presentations we will be announcing as the year progresses. Let’s to get to know each other better: hear what’s on each other’s minds and hearts; see how we can work together toward integral change.

Identity, Power & Integral Change Workshops

My colleague at c-Integral, Rose Sackey-Milligan, and I will be offering this workshop in Boston and Northampton, Massachusetts this fall. This will be a great opportunity for people interested in learning experientially about the consciousness-in-action approach and about its potential for personal and collective level change.

We’d love to see you either in Boston or Northampton.

Here’s the announcement:

Identity, Power & Integral Change is a one-day workshop in which participants are invited to deepen their understanding of identity, broaden their analysis of power, critically examine values, beliefs and behaviors concerning liberation, and personally engage transformative practices for integral change.

Through this workshop, we will explore these basic aspects of the consciousness-in-action process:

  • Integral Well-Being & Development: Personal and Collective Dimensions of Being and Doing
  • Forces That Hinder Well-Being & Development: Complexities of Institutional and Internalized Oppression
  • Personal & Social Aspects of Identity & Power Within Dominant Culture: Self in Dynamic Relationship to Other(s) as Context for Liberation and Transformation
  • Integral Transformative Practices: Tools, Practices and Disciplines to Undermine Reactive Patterns and Nurture Libratory Transformation

This workshop will be useful for helping professionals, social justice and spiritual activists, community organizers and cultural workers, students and educators, and other change agents interested in the connection between personal well-being and development and social justice and transformation.

Facilitated by Raúl Quiñones-Rosado and Rose Sackey-Milligan, this workshop will be offered on Friday, October 22nd in the Boston area and again on Saturday, October 23rd in Northampton, MA.

Sliding Scale Fee: $25 – $75  — (Supported in part by The Seasons Fund for Social Transformation).

To PRE-REGISTER please send an e-mail to: info@c-integral.org

C-in-Action Webinar

A few weeks ago, Rose Sackey-Milligan, c-Integral’s Co-Director, and I held our first Consciousness-in-Action webinar. This presentation was hosted by the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society as part of their series of webinars for the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education, teachers, scholars, administrators and students who teach or use contemplative practices in academia.

This presentation provides an overview of consciousness-in-action, c-Integral’s unique approach to personal and social transformation. As such, it serves as a basic introduction to some of the key concepts, principles and applications of this transformative path. In it, we speak to the value of contemplative practice in addressing complex identity and social justice issues for individual and collective liberation from oppression, a necessary stage as we move toward integral well-being and development.

Clearly, this is merely an introduction to the consciousness-in-action approach to integral liberation and transformation. We hope it serves as a teaser to those that may interested in learning more about this transformative practice.

Our thanks go to Beth Wadham, Carrie Bergman and the folks at C-Mind for inviting us to share our work with ACMHE and for making it possible to share it with you all reading this.

Consciousness in Action from Center for Contemplative Mind on Vimeo.

Where are Latinos in a Future Multiracial Society?

By Raúl Quiñones-Rosado, PhD

In a piece posted on March 4, 2010, Yes! Magazine’s Sarah van Gelder engages a panel of visionaries on “Our Future as a Multiracial Society.” An otherwise good discussion, the panel seems to overlook a centrally important issue, one that fundamentally undermines Ms. van Gelder’s initial premise:

Sarah van Gelder: In the year 2042, people of color will be in the majority in the United States. They already are in many of our cities and farming areas. Yet America still imagines itself—on television, in advertising, and in political rhetoric—as racially white and culturally European. What would it mean to change our self-image and recognize that we’re made up of a mixture of races, nationalities, and cultures?

The problem is that People of Color will NOT be in the majority in 2042. Nor anytime soon thereafter. At least, not as long as the Census, government agencies, mass media and other shapers of cultural consciousness (or collective self-image), insist, as it has for the past few decades, on de-racializing Latinos.

Following colonial-period notions of “the one-drop rule,” people of Latin American origins have historically been racialized as something other than “white”: a designation originally reserved for British and other Christians of northern European descent; the Irish, southern and eastern Europeans, and Jews were eventually (and only quite recently) accepted into the white collective.

Yet since the 1960s, demographers have known that Latinos would numerically surpass African-Americans and that, together with other populations of color, would outnumber whites by mid-21st century. Since then, a gradual process of redefining the admission requirements into the white race has been in progress. Latinos are this process’ intended new recruits. Hence the invention of the term “Hispanic” that orients one’s thinking toward Spain, Europe and whiteness, and away from Latin America, colonialism, resistance, revolution and, most significantly, large-scale and historic racial intermixing among Europeans, Africans and Native peoples. Hence, the reclassification of “Hispanic/Latino” as an “ethnicity” —and NOT a “race”—in the past two censal processes.

So, while the percentage of Latinos in the US will more than double in the 45 years between 2005 and 2050 (from 14% to 29%), we must ask: What RACE would we be considered? If the Census 2000 was any indicator, 48% of Latinos in the US—and a staggering 80% in the US colony of Puerto Rico—were identified as “white.”

Yet, if we remember that Latinos are already no longer considered a “racial” group, but an “ethnic” one: Would Latinos even be counted, as a group, AT ALL? No other “ethnic” groups are counted in the Census or identified on any school, medical or police records or government forms. What makes us believe that Latinos just won’t be melted—or burnt—in the good ol’ American melting pot?

This is why the Census 2010, currently underway, is so important to anti-racism movement and to the possibility of a future multiracial society. Because only if Latinos (and perhaps Arabs and northern Africans, and others) are successful in resisting this reclassification, will those currently considered “people of color” be able to constitute a majority some 30 years from now. Otherwise, in 2042, whites—with the inclusion of millions of “apparently white” Latinos—will remain the “demographic majority” and, based on this, may well continue to justify its “political majority” status and “moral right” to dominance; there would be no external motivation to share power with Black, brown and other racial groups unable or unwilling to be assimilated and accepted into white culture.

We should remember that the US has been a multiracial society since the arrival of Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. Therefore, in transforming our current multiracial society to a more just one, it will be important that we move toward becoming an “anti-racist” multiracial society. That is, a society largely liberated from individual, institutional and cultural practices based on notions of racial superiority and inferiority. Clearly, this will take all of us.