Intersections of Privilege and Oppression

I’m preparing to cover a class on working as a cross-cultural clinician for a class specializing in working with individuals who identify as LBGTQ. The biggest challenge in any class like this it so provoke thought in the diversity of students in the room while expanding their capacity for compassion – for their clients, for themselves, and for their fellow students and future clinicians.
The basic rule I always come back to is “Know you don’t know and believe the story of the person in front of you”. I could take time here to explain the concepts of intersectional oppression and privilege – however that’s not my intention. It is enough to know and recognize that each of us lives a life that has many factors that support or hinder us in different environments – the color of our skin, our country of origin, our gender, even our height – most CEO’s are 5’10 or taller – that’s not an accident – it is because of our belief that our leaders are in fact “larger than life”. Height then becomes a contributing factor to being selected as a leader.
Being the Difference does not mean being colorblind, gender blind, ethnicity blind or blind in any way shape or form. It is recognizing that we are in a world that, in its default mode, views those who are different than us, as “other”. Strangers and possible enemies that may take away the resources we view as limited due to both our biology and our socialization that has reinforced the survival messages our biology carries.
Over thousands of years we have created striations of race and class based upon this view of difference and who, in that moment of the world’s time, had the “upper hand” to create a narrative based upon many factors including technology – whether that technology was the ability to harness fire or harness nuclear power.
It is easy to be “blind” the intersections of privilege and oppression that people experience based upon a combination of all the possible factors that create an individual – height, weight, eye color, hair color, country of origin, family of origin, laws that restrict access to privileges, laws that enhance social and economic classes.
What is difficult is to notice all the differences. To notice our own place both in privilege and oppression. To notice our own contributions in privilege and oppression. To consciously choose to use our privilege in a way that provides access to resources for those who have less access. To consciously use any oppression as an avenue towards advocacy not just for ourselves but for everyone.
I am in a place where privileges intersect – straight, white, educated, male, raised in a family system that was free of physical and verbal abuse and in a city that looked mostly like me, talked like me, and supported the development of my own individual identity. It is a rare intersection of privileges that also has enabled me to take in feedback from others to then seek out my own education so that I have been able to support families from other cultures, other spiritual systems, other races, other genders (yes plural), and with other factors including physical disability and chronic medical conditions without pushing my own belief systems by always moving towards the understanding that all of us hold different beliefs that – as long as they do not cause direct harm to another – deserve their own place of co-existence with each other and under the best circumstances enrich and provide innovation in the thought processes of both me and those I encounter.
So all this to say, I encourage you, the next time a thought of judgement comes to you, instead reflect – if I had their life, their experience, their circumstances, who is to say I might not be exactly like they are? What they do, what they say, in their world makes sense. Let me understand their world without giving up mine. Let be reflective and compassionate, and in this way, let my own spirit evolve without trying to control their thoughts, choices, and actions… and in the best of circumstances, allow me to be in a place of service that in fact enhances their ability to access the resources they need as well so that both of us can truly make a positive and lasting impact in the world.