What if we all bought into the idea that we are biased? Our different identities and the life experiences we have had create our unique signature of bias. When I reflect on the power and privilege wheel above I count that I have 7-8 privileged identities even though I live in a black female body. This lens or filter impacts how people view me and how I view the world.
Our brain sometimes likes to create efficiencies where it accumulates information that we can access when we need it. I have begun to think of my brain as a filing cabinet of information about different things. The goal in anti-oppression work is not to get rid of the filing cabinets of information so that we all become color blind and are no longer able to celebrate differences. The filing cabinets of information can help us be more culturally sensitive and we also risk reducing people to stereotypes if we our filing cabinets have limited information in them. What if we expanded what was in our filing cabinets of information. For Black history month this year I was sharing a Black Joy Manifesto video in my workshops. I wanted to celebrate not only stories of Black trauma, pain, oppression and stories of resilience but many different images of various kinds of Black people experiencing joy. Too many of us don’t get exposed to enough images of that.
When I think about White people I know that my filing cabinets of information is varied. Books, movies, news, education classes provide me a wide variety of representation so that my filing my cabinet is not stereotypical. Can you say the same about various different BIPOC (Black, Indigenous or People of Color) groups? What’s in your filing cabinet of information about groups that tend to be marginalized? If we don’t expand what is in our filing cabinet we can’t help but walk around with stereotypes which leads to implicit bias which leads to microaggressions. All of this does harm on a daily basis. This is the more subtle form of racism.
Sometimes we can expand our filing cabinets of information by developing meaningful relationships with people who are different from us but sometimes that is not possible so we can seek out information that centers their voices and stories. Once we expand our filing cabinets of information about various groups of people we can start doing a power analysis.
I appreciate the way that Sonia Renee Taylor (see video below) and Resmaa Menakem talk about white body supremacy. It’s the idea that the white body sits on the top of the hierarchy and the black body sits on the bottom of the hierarchy. We can see the parallels to a caste system where people at the top of the hierarchy have greater institutional power and hence privilege. The closer you are in proximity to white bodies the higher you rise on the ladder though there is likely a ceiling, only so far you can go on the hierarchy if you do not live in a white body. There are other oppressed identities you can hold such as being in a female body or gender nonconforming body that can bring you lower in the hierarchy even if you are in a white body. Other oppressed identities that can intersect with whiteness to bring you lower on the body: queerness, non Christian identity, disability, neurotypical brains, bigger bodies, not being a U.S. citizen or being a native English speaker.
When doing anti-oppression work and trying to be an ally, trying to be culturally humble or have more effective conversations with people about topics such as race we have to do a power analysis. Power analysis involves looking at where you fall on the body hierarchy. This graph below of power and privilege shows some identities that tend to be dominant in terms of institutional power and those that tend to be marginalized or oppressed. The identities at the center have the most institutional power and hence are higher on the ladder.
Try it out for yourself. Create a ladder. If you are white presenting put yourself at the top of the ladder. If you have other identities that tend to be oppressed lower yourself on the ladder. Now imagine you are talking to someone about race and racism, where do they fall on the ladder. The person who has an area of domination related to race works to decenter themselves when talking about race and listen to those lower on the ladder because they likely experience a higher degree of oppression. If both individuals are part of a marginalized racial group the person with the lighter skin tone is higher on the ladder because of proximity to white body supremacy. Some of us have marginalized identities that are not visible unless we disclose them, that puts us higher on the ladder. Some of us have multiple marginalized identities so we are lower on the ladder. If we think about intersectionality of identities, coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, the individuals at the bottom of the ladder are those in black bodies, queer, trans or gender nonconforming, poor, disabled, and fat. We want to center the voices of the most marginalized. If the people at the bottom of the ladder feel like their lives matter, institutionally in terms of policies and access as well as personally, than all lives truly matter and the ladder collapses.
Check out this tasks about the tasks of the privileged and the tasks of the subjugated as described by Dr. Kenneth Hardy.
Want to learn more about being anti-racist check out resources here. Reach out to Dr. Nathalie Edmond for additional trainings or email her.
Nathalie Edmond is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of trauma from a mindfulness based and somatic approach. She is also a yoga teacher and anti-racism educator. She lives with her family in New Jersey.