“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.

c-Integral, Inc.

I am pleased to announce a major new phase for c-Integral and its unique transformative work for people in social justice and transformation movements.

For the past several years, c-Integral’s work has been to support a new kind of leader and to foster a new kind of leadership for social justice and transformation. This work has been based on the consciousness-in-action approach, which I developed from work in communities of struggle over the past twenty-plus years.

Beginning with the founding of the Institute for Latino Empowerment and later Ilé: Organizers for Consciousness-in-Action, this work focused on anti-oppression leadership development and anti-racism organizing in Latino communities in the United States and Puerto Rico. Over the years, particularly as I researched and wrote Consciousness-in-Action, Toward an Integral Psychology of Liberation & Transformation, this approach has continued to evolve, as my vision both expanded and deepened. While the core purpose of fostering integral change—cambio integral—has remained constant, the focus of my work has shifted to include people of all social identity groups, to address core dynamics driving all forms of oppression, and to explicitly explore a psychology, an ethic and a spirituality of liberation that is applied simultaneously to personal, social and cultural transformation.

Now, clearly, this is a big vision. And it’s certainly bigger than me! Fortunately, it’s not a vision that is exclusively, or uniquely, mine. Actually, over the years I have come to know or meet an increasing number of people who share, at least to some extent, this vision of integral change. In fact, the person who is now joining me in leading the next phase of this work is someone I met and began to collaborate with almost twenty years ago.

Rose Sackey Milligan and I first crossed paths when I submitted a grant application to the Peace Development Fund. As Director of Grants & Programs there, she became well acquainted with and supportive of our early work. Eventually, she became a personal donor, advisor, board member, and even a participant in one of our cultural programs. Rose also made sure to invite me to participate in events of an emerging spiritual activism movement, like the 1991 Compassionate Awareness and Social Action Retreat with Ram Das, Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg and others. Years later (2005), while Director of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society’s Social Justice Program, she also invited me to take part in a gathering of spiritual activists at Garrison Institute. Soon afterwards, she had me offering presentations and workshops on consciousness-in-action at C-Mind and collaborating as a mentor and co-facilitator of the Social Justice Program’s spiritual retreats for community organizers and activists.

Beyond being a constant supporter and frequent collaborator, Rose has also always been a source of inspiration, and when asked, of wise guidance. I am truly hard-pressed to think of anyone of greater integrity, someone as committed to balance and harmony in life, who seeks to respond appropriately to incongruence and conflict, and who is dedicated to an engaged spirituality for the liberation and well-being of all beings.

That is why I am so pleased to be joined by Rose as Co-Director of c-Integral, Inc.

Now, as a non-profit education and research organization, c-Integral’s purpose will be to educate, train and mentor social change agents in an integral approach to liberation and transformation. We will seek to develop integral awareness, deepen critical understanding, nurture liberating visions, and foster transformative practices among change agents addressing social injustice in its many forms. Moreover, we will seek to promote the application of the principles and practices of integral libratory-transformation throughout our communities and, more broadly, into our social, economic, political and cultural institutions.

Rose and I will be offering presentations, workshops and leadership retreats in our approach to integral leadership throughout the year. We will also be available for consultation to people and groups seeking to benefit from our experience. We will do this, in part, with grant support from The Seasons Fund for Social Transformation of the Jewish Funds for Justice. And until we obtain our own official tax-exempt status, we will be operating under the fiscal sponsorship of Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico; through this support, we will also be able to receive tax-deductible gifts from individual and institutional donors. This and other grants and gifts we expect to receive throughout the year shall allow us to operate and offer our work at affordable rates, as well as offer partial scholarships to those whom may such support. The financial support we receive from all sources are and will be central to becoming an economically viable, self-sustaining, community-supported effort for long-term transformative work.

In the following weeks, we will be posting news and announcements regarding our programs, activities and events. I’ll also be updating the c-Integral.org website and blogs, and will be making some changes to this space. So, please stay tuned. Better yet, contact us and find out what’s happening and how you can get involved in this important work.

Peace to you!

The Matrix: “The Red Pill or the Blue Pill?”

Did you realize it has been 10 years since “The Matrix” was released? More importantly, you must ask yourself: “Which would you have chosen: the red pill or the blue pill?”

Well, did you? Will you?

Check out this great scene!

Thanks to the folks at Open Source Integral and Wired.com for the reminder.