Sunday, July 19, 2009

Diggin' up my privilege

I come to the project of GreenLeaf with 27 years worth of life experiences. Not a whole lot by many standards, but a nice chunk of time in my opinion. In thinking about my social identities (as a white woman, Jewish, straight identified, raised with a lot of class and educational privilege, temporarily able-bodied) in the context of food, social justice, and the process of starting GreenLeaf, and inspired by reading Closing the Food Gap by Mark Winne, I have decided to compile a list of my privileges, akin to the list in "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" by Peggy McIntosh.

The process of thinking through my privilege has been exciting, uncomfortable, and very challenging. I imagine that it will be an ongoing project--and I hope that making and keeping this privilege visible in my own awareness will be a transformative project.

When I say privilege I mean, as McIntosh writes, "An invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was 'meant' to remain oblivious." She writes about how remaining oblivious to these assets, these advantages, helps keep them in place--from the ones that are positive and that everyone should have access to, to the ones that are negative, and serve to keep systems of oppression in line: people with privilege dominant over those without.

I see making this list of my privilege around the work of starting GreenLeaf, food, health, and education as part of my work to own, work on, and interrupt my own privilege. I hope that thinking about these things, and reminding myself of them will help stop me from taking my advantages for granted--and inspire me to keep working to make sure that every person has access to healthy, affordable food, healthy, safe, supportive and loving communities, economic freedom, a good education, and all the things we all need to survive and thrive.

• I have easy access to any number of good grocery stores, because I have a car and because there is a grocery store within one mile of my home.
• I do not have to plan my grocery shopping around public transportation.
• I can save money by purchasing food and other items in bulk because I can easily drive to stores where they are available, and take them home in my car.
• I can save money and time by buying and storing frozen food items, because I can easily and quickly take them home in my car.
• I can afford to buy as many fruits and vegetables as I want to eat.
• I can afford to buy organic and local food items as often as I choose.
• I can afford to buy healthy prepared foods if I do not have the time or inclination to cook at home.
• I can afford to waste the food I buy.
• I never have to feel hunger.
• I am never food insecure.
• If I invest money and time in growing food and my crops fail, I will still be able to buy food to feed myself.
• I own land where I can grow food to feed myself, if I chose to.
• I do not have to grow food to feed myself.
• The land I own is less likely to be contaminated than other neighborhoods in the city.
• It is easy for me to find other people who are interested in urban agriculture, local and organic food, and issues of sustainability. Most of them are white, and it is comfortable and safe for me to be around other white people.
• It is easy for me to find and buy foods that reflect my cultural heritages.
• Because of my class privilege, I feel a sense of security that my basic needs are and will be met.
• I have the privilege of being unaware of my white privilege.
• When I tell people that I am working to start an organization, they are more likely to believe me and believe in me because I am white.
• I have more credibility when I am networking because I am white.
• People are likely to assume that I am intelligent, capable, and skilled because I am white.
• It is more acceptable for me to be dressed unprofessionally, even in professional contexts, because I am white.
• If and when I fundraise for my projects, people are more likely to see me as noble and worthy and are less likely to question my motives because I am white.
• I am confident of more personal safety walking, eating in a restaurant, canvassing door to door, and farming in any neighborhood in the city because I am white.
• I am unlikely to be stopped or harassed by the police for going about my daily business because I am white.
• I am likely to be surrounded by people who speak my first language, English.
• I am not afraid of being taken into custody and deported.
• I can afford to spend my time working to start GreenLeaf without pay.
• I know a lot of people who can advise me with regard to finances, fundraising, and other aspects of organizational development.
• I have family members who can support me financially in the event of a crisis.
• I have easy access to many resources I need to start GreenLeaf, such as a computer, internet access, work space, car, books, etc.
• I have good health insurance through my job, even though it is part time.
• I can afford to pay my portion of the deductible and out-of-pocket costs, even on my part-time salary.
• I have always had access to whatever health care and medication I needed, regardless of cost.
• I have never postponed care for fear of the cost.
• I have always had access to good preventive health care.
• I am very healthy and temporarily able-bodied.
• It is easy for me to physically access almost any site in the city, including farms and gardens.
• I do not need any special tools or accommodations to work on a farm or garden.
• I have access to information, guidance, and support regarding healthy habits and nutrition.
• I live within walking distance of an affordable place to exercise.
• I feel safe and comfortable walking, running, or biking around my neighborhood.
• I can afford to pay for exercise classes and equipment.
• I can afford to take the time to exercise regularly.
• When I go to exercise classes, most of the people there are white and it is comfortable and safe for me to be around other white people.
• Because of my education, I know how to seek out resources that will be useful to me in starting GreenLeaf.
• Because of my education, I have a solid understanding of the economy, finance, and budgeting.
• Because of my education, I can write well and can express my ideas and vision in ways that are accessible and appealing to people who are likely to fund my projects.
• I have access to higher education, and am currently a graduate student.
• I have access to an academic community that can support, challenge, and provide resources and connections to me and help me develop my projects.

What do you think about this list? What have I missed? What are some of the ways you are privileged? What are some of the ways you are not privileged?

I also wanted to add something about my previous blog posting: regarding one of the questions posed by the folks at Earthworks:

"Question how it is possible to have 'racism' in our society without having 'racists'"

I don't mean to say that there are no longer racists in our society--there certainly are. I take this question to be referring to many of us who do not identify ourselves as racists, but through a lack of knowledge and understanding, perpetuate racism without meaning to. One term to describe this is "aversive racists," white people who "recognize that prejudice is bad, not recognize that they are prejudiced."

What do you think about aversive racism? How have you seen it in your life?

As always, I'd love to read your thoughts and ideas--please post them!

My best,