November 27, 2014

Today is Thanksgiving in the U.S. But still I went into my office to do a bit of clean up before heading out to the wonderful Feist/Cornell family with moms and dads and the delightful and special kids, Merlin and Forrest.

I checked the New York Times online. Read Charles Blow’s column about Ferguson. And I was so angry and sad. So I’ve spent about 1 hour writing the email below to Mr. Blow…and to Mr. Kristof.

And now, I’m sharing with you, my reader who read Simone Uncensored – social commentary.

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Dear Mr. Blow… And Mr. Kristof, too.

“We the people” must add together Mr. Blow‘s column “Fury After Ferguson” and Mr. Kristof‘s 4-part column“When Whites Just Don’t Get It.” (Read all four parts!) Maybe then “we the WHITE people” will get it.

But I doubt it. Too many people don’t understand unearned privilege (Dr. Peggy McIntosh and her writings). As I always say: “I’m a white, heterosexual, well-educated, affluent woman. I win except for gender. Because it’s a disadvantage to be a woman in every country in the world, including the U.S. But because I was born white and heterosexual, and I’m well-educated (thanks mom and dad) and affluent (partly due to all that unearned privilege previously mentioned!), I win. I win except for gender.

And, I find my winning to be appalling and angering and I sure as hell do feel guilty. (By the way, I love to watch people flinch when I say my of unearned privilege. I can work it in to just about any presentation. I write about it. I use it in my consulting. And I listen but certainly respond when white people tell me they don’t have privilege and men tell me they don’t have privilege. But some people do get it. They recognize my privilege and their own. They’re pleased that I’m speaking out.)

I fantasize about a world where everyone understands the nature of their own personal (unearned) privilege. My fantasy includes everyone recognizing that we shouldn’t talk so much about “disadvantage” but rather talk about unearned privilege. We can make more progress that way, with that acknowledgement and that conversation.

As you say in your column, Mr. Blow… And I’m paraphrasing and adding my own spin to your thoughts: What the hell do the advantaged/privileged expect to happen but violent revolution when we privileged continue to ignore (or only modestly recognize) what’s happening?

  • How do we expect parents to explain to their children to “find a police person” when you’re lost or hurt or need help. But be careful, my son, because you’re a black male. Walk slowly towards the cop. Keep your hands visible at all times. Make sure you don’t have anything that might be construed as a gun — maybe a bottle of water in your hand or a bulky snack in your pocket. And by the way, don’t ever wear a hoodie. And don’t be too tall or too big or too black or or…
  • How do we expect our LGBTQ neighbors to live? Deny your sexual orientation. Hide it as best you can. Be careful about the pronouns you use. Because…Well…You know. You’re just too different. And different is dangerous. And gods and goddesses might not approve of you. And…
  • And if you’re a woman…Let’s see…The U.S. is something like 82nd in the world when it comes to the number of women in the federal legislature. Women are still paid less than men for the same work. Any profession dominated by women has lower wages. And, yippee…Facebook will now pay to freeze your eggs? Wow.
  • And class… Money… The rich. What middle class? And the poor. And tax rates that are less for Warren Buffett that his secretary! (And Mr. Buffett is appalled but the U.S. Congress isn’t.)

John Rawls (in his book A Theory of Justice) tells a story that Warren Buffet paraphrased and I paraphrased again and others do, too, I’m sure: “Imagine that it’s 24 hours before you’re born. And a genie appears to you and asks, “What rules do you want in the world when you’re born… rules to apply to you and your children and your grandchildren. But you don’t know if you’ll be born white or black, rich or poor, male or female, heterosexual or homosexual… What rules do you want in the world?” I want a world where it doesn’t matter. The rules (and the behaviors) are the same for everyone.

We create our world together. And we in the U.S. have created together a classist, rich/poor, homophobic, racist, sexist society. And the privileged must fight for those our society has marginalized. Marginalized on purpose. Marginalized because we don’t understand and recognize privilege. Marginalized because we’re too afraid and too ignorant and too “busy” to stand up and speak out. I always remind people, Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t march with blacks only. There were some whites there, too. The privileged must work with the marginalized. Not in a patronizing manner! In in equity, sharing recognition.

So we have Ferguson. And we’ll continue to have variations of Fergusons … whether for racism or sexism or homophobia. Because even when we pass laws — we the people still behave in racist, sexist, homophobic, classist ways.
Of course, Mr. Blow, you and Mr. Kristof say that there’s no excuse for violence. Of course, I agree. No excuse for violence. But there sure are lots of reasons for it. And if “we” won’t listen to “them” and create an “us” that fights together without violence…. Then what do we expect to happen? Nonviolent change is what is needed. Peaceful revolution is the right thing to do. But that sure isn’t getting us very far.
I wasn’t in the grand jury room in Ferguson. I wasn’t there with the Trayvon Martin decision. But I’m really angry at both. I’m angry at the communities and the U.S., my country. I’m angry because too many of our systems – like the courts and the police – refuse to fully acknowledge the racist, sexist, homophobic systems they work in. Because all of our systems are like that unless the people within talk and talk, monitor and watch and fight for equity.
The Ferguson grand jury could have chosen to conduct a public trial. They didn’t. I’m not surprised. U.S. society and U.S. systems and U.S. institutions and the application of U.S. laws and regulations favor the privileged. Favoring unearned privilege. White. Male. Affluent (and especially the rich). Class. Heterosexuals.
Welcome to the USA.  Thank you Mr. Blow and Mr. Kristof for speaking out publicly, for trying to get people to listen and actually hear. And maybe to act.
Simone Joyaux
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That’s it. Now it’s time to head out to be with dear friends for Thanksgiving. And these friends understand privilege – theirs and mine.

About Simone Joyaux

A consultant specializing in fund development, strategic planning, and board development, Simone P. Joyaux works with all types and sizes of nonprofits, speaks at conferences worldwide, and teaches in the graduate program for philanthropy at Saint Mary’s University, MN. Her books, Keep Your Donors and Strategic Fund Development, are standards in the field.

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