On Saturday I was on a panel at OneWorldNow’s “Get Global” Conference in Seattle. I shared the table with three excellent folks: Harriett Poni Dumba of the Southern Sudanese Women’s Association of Washington, Anthony Jewett of Bardoli Global in Houston, and Chris Fontana from Global Visionaries in Seattle. It was awesome to be able to talk with a group of diverse young people who wanted to know more about the work of these hard-working orgs, and it was flattering to sit with them.
But as I was sitting there towards the end, a student stood up and asked, seeming like he was speaking directly to me, “What do you get out of doing this?” To preface that, do trust that I shared my story with them as much as possible, and that I emphasized coming from the ‘hood and struggling to gain stability… I felt like this guy was calling me out a little bit. I was also a little embarrassed, because sometimes I do not verbalize my gratitude enough…
So I flexed and told the truth. I told him that as an adult who works with young people I get the privilege of being pissed off whenever I am open to the opportunity. He grimaced, and I don’t think anyone liked hearing me say “pissed off”, but I didn’t want to drop “righteous indignation” on the audience at that point. I explained that as a white male who has entered the middle class in America, I feel I have a social obligation to sit on my couch and watch TV everyday. I have the duty of flexing my credit cards and going shopping everyday. I have the opportunity – as so many people have always told me – to do whatever the heck I want to, every single day. I am of the privileged class in America today, and that’s what’s expected of me.
Instead, I work with young people almost everyday. And when I’m not working with young people directly, I believe that I am working for them in some way or another. That is the way I flex my privilege. I get to engage with young African American males who sit through classes where teachers refuse to believe a word they are saying. I get to talk with Latino seventh graders who don’t understand why their words don’t sound the same, but they don’t really care, either. They just want someone to say hi to everyday. I get to go to activist meetings and youth forums and planning commissions and cultural events and social gatherings everyday where young people and adults are wrestling, consciously, and struggling to stay honest, authentic, and real with each other.
That is my feeling of adult privilege, and the reason I “go to work” everyday. How about you?