Three Ways to Reduce Power and Privilege

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Pure and honest political conservatism as an ideology is often at the heart of our global problems – it unapologetically promotes privilege. While I might be wrong and certainly will be persecuted for this line, it seems to me that true conservatism is synonymous with privilege.  If we are to save our planet and our people, don’t we need to change our current acceptance of political conservatism?     

If you have followed along to this point, there are logical interventions we can put into place to make sure that we challenge the status quo and ensure we leave our own power and privilege at the door when possible. Social Workers and helping professionals need user-friendly tools to remind us of the foundational elements in any given intervention.

For example, if we are sitting with a client who is accused of or discloses the abuse of power and control against women and children, we have a window of opportunity to present information or introduce interventions to challenge and redirect the client’s path. Are you with me?

In thinking about power and privilege as I do, I came up with the following acronym to remind me of our ethical obligation to challenge privilege and the status quo. A.C.T. is a useful acronym to remember when trying to think about how to combat the structural inequities helping professionals are faced with daily.

A.  ACKNOWLEDGE

Acknowledge represents the foundational best practice of self-awareness and begins at home.  In order to combat privilege and power inequalities at the micro and macro level, we must first be aware of our own histories and privilege before we move forward in challenging privilege in our systems.

If you are a white male, for example, you have privilege. As a helping professional, it is necessary for us to understand our own person-in-society/environment position before we can help others. What do we inherently bring to the table at the outset of any conversation? What is our place in the power hierarchy in relation to our clients? How do we leave, to the extent possible, our power and privilege at the door in order to engage with our clients where they are at? How do we ensure we don’t replicate the power dynamics already impacting our clients?

C. CONVERSE

While for some it may seem overwhelming to challenge social and political systems, it can be done, and it doesn’t need to be complicated.  It starts by having conversations about the privilege you know about which is likely your own. Simply, have conversations about privilege and these conversations will bring more conversations and before you know it people are talking about power and privilege.  Conversations lead to actions and change. Conversations about power and privilege are tied to and link back to our awareness. If we question and analyze our own privilege, we are then able to help others do the same.

T.  TEACH

The next step and sometimes in conjunction with conversations is teaching.  Social workers and helping professionals are the best teachers of structural inequalities and privilege. Teach people through conversations what you know and understand about power, inequality and… you guessed it, privilege.

Our work is inextricably tied to the power structures of our organizations, our communities, and our states and our nations. As Gandhi so eloquently said, “be the change you want to see in your world!” If we desire a more equitable society, we must A.C.T. against power and privilege.

Self Care: Placing An Oxygen Mask On Yourself Prior To Assisting Others

Traveling with friends and family to events is something I like to do for two reasons. One is the fact that I like to share experiences with others who might not otherwise have the opportunity to travel. If I can help them create new memories and expand their minds I always try to. Two, I simply prefer to have company when I travel for speaking engagements or HipHop performances.

But there’s one specific time I recall that I’m sure my travel companions may have wished they had missed out on my excursions.

Primarily filled with judges and lawyers, this 1000 person audience threw me for a loop and off my game. What happened was both humbling and embarrassing. It also opened my eyes to some internal emotional work that I had yet to address. I wish it wouldn’t have unfolded on stage, but everything happens for a reason and this was no exception.

I stayed up until 5AM the night before the big conference preparing my notes and pacing in my hotel room, undoubtably irritating both my sister and friend/videographer who were sharing the two room suite that had been provided to us. I was noticeably more nervous than usual. Rightfully so, it was an entirely new audience. This nervousness led up to a level of self-exposure that was not planned nor pretty.

Keep in mind that keynote speaking is my full time career. These organizations don’t hire me just because of my fancy website or produced videos, they hire me because I have personal experience in the system and spent 15 years working as a Registered Nurse and child welfare advocate prior to launching my platform and publishing my book. Hopefully this tells you that this mishap was not due to inexperience, but rather a lack of awareness in the self-care department. It was not something that was obvious.

A small dog suffering from smoke inhalation was rescued by firefighters and given oxygen by firefighter/paramedic Mark Hubert. Photo by: Gigi Graciette (shared by OCFA)
A small dog suffering from smoke inhalation was rescued by firefighters and given oxygen by firefighter/paramedic Mark Hubert. Photo by: Gigi Graciette (shared by OCFA)

I have spent nearly a decade engulfed in self-development and improving my approach to self-care so it was not for lack of trying. It was simply something that went under the radar. I think that we all have little things that sift through the cracks of our diligent efforts time and time again. Which is why we need to regularly and consistently be reminded of the importance of self-care.

No matter how many times you have flown, the flight attendants always remind you to take care of yourself first. If the cabin loses oxygen then make sure you have your oxygen mask on prior to assisting others even children. You’re no good to anyone if you die before getting to them. And that is what happens when we keep letting little things slip through the cracks.

We die a little inside and aren’t able to be the great people we were meant to be for our friends, family, and clients. How many social workers do you know that need a social worker? Probably a lot. Remembering this can save your life and your relationships.

Therefore, at the risk of exposing my own insecurities to yet another large audience, I offer this story to inspire your own self-reflection in hopes of allowing you to be better prepared to face the unknowns in your life and work. Allow yourself to care for your own hidden emotional barriers before making a fool out of yourself in front of friends, co-workers, and most-importantly family members and clients.

During my presentations, I often speak about my relationship with my mother and the impact it had on me as a child as she was absent and often emotionally abusive. Shortly before this presentation, I learned more about the truth behind my mother’s behaviors during my childhood. I learned that she had been labeled with multiple mental health diagnoses and placed on several psychotropic medications that impaired her ability to function, much less parent.

It gave me a sense of relief. So much of my life, I had hatred pent up in my heart for her inability to provide love, compassion, trust, and understanding. But, this new knowledge gave me a new direction for that anger. It allowed me to blame others or simply blame the system.

During this presentation, I spoke about those new findings. Self-exposure is generally very moving, right? I thought so too, but I found that to be the case only if done strategically and with purpose.

There was no purpose for my ranting about the corruption of the system. I was simply ranting.

Afterwards, a lady who looked my mom’s age and as if she may have had a rough life herself gave me a note. She told me to open it when I get back to my hotel room, and I did. It read: “I’m glad your aunty was there for you when I wasn’t able to be. I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to be who you needed me to be. I love you very much. -signed, Mom”

I didn’t know it, but those were the words I had been longing to hear my entire life. And this woman knew it. Something tells me she was in my mothers shoes most of her life and possibly was once in my shoes as well.

Sitting in that hotel room, I broke down in tears immediately upon reading those words. She got it. She found a gaping wound and she picked up on it from my ranting on stage when I should have been providing actionable steps for the audience.

50 percent of the reviews from this event were negative. I obviously didn’t follow through with what the audience needed. I am embarrassed to say that, but hopefully this is a reminder that it is okay to need help. It is okay to take time away. Self care is essential, and it is okay for the counselors to seek counsel. Actually, it is necessary so that you don’t cause 50 percent of the people in your life to feel negative about your interactions with them.

We are here to help others, but we must help ourselves first.

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