A few months ago I wrote about my experience moderating a panel on raising socially conscious kids.
What I discovered was that being socially conscious meant different things depending on who was speaking – some parents were busy reading and speaking to their young children about privilege and residential schools, while others, like me were making sure our were feeling good about themselves in a world that often sees them in a negative light (or facilitates them seeing themselves as such). You can read that blog post here.
Today I’m writing about another example of how social justice can look different depending on who you are – and the ways we might miss the depth of these experiences.
Your Social Justice “Resume”
A good friend of mine was at a job interview recently. She was excited by this organization because they have a strong social justice lens. That’s a good sign when you’re Black and queer and want to be in an environment that sees you and values you for who you are.
After the interview, one question stuck in her mind: she was asked about her social justice “resume”. The interviewers wanted to know what she had been up to, in the area of social justice.
My eyebrows went up when my friend told me this.
Maybe yours are up too, as you read.
What does social justice look like?
Sometimes when we do social justice work, we can get stuck on it looking a certain way – the way we do it or how we understand social justice. What can then happen is that we don’t see, or we may even discount, the work that others are doing to raise awareness and inspire change.
This is another version of being in the same situation and having a completely different experience.
When you are (for example) a black, queer, female, immigrant in Toronto (you can substitute any marginalized identity here), every day presents an opportunity to raise awareness and inspire change, just by being you. Just by doing your thing you may have the opportunity to change someone’s way of thinking as you speak to them, change someone’s mental associations as you go about your work, or create an opportunity to shake up someone’s stereotypes as you represent your profession.
Being you, in this case, may also provide opportunities to shine a light on inequities and model cultural competency for others when you offer customer service or client care to people you have marginalized identities in common with. When we share identities, we “get” each other – which can lead to different decisions and different ways of providing service. Ways that are often more relevant, meaningful and more respectful. Ways that tell that person “I see you”.
When we work in environments that value diversity and support inclusion, those moments become teachable moments for people who do not share those identities.
What are we missing?
When we have a lot of privilege – particularly white privilege since race is such a big differentiator of experience – it can feel like social justice has a resume: organizations you have worked for, projects you have worked on or led, Activism you have been involved in, in order to bring awareness to issues of inequity.
All of which are important, because allies are crucial to this work.
And… when you carry marginalized identities, in the face of microaggressions, discrimination, unconscious bias and systemic inequities, social justice can look like getting up and making it through your day in environments that don’t see you for who you are and what you have to offer.
What would the resume look like for that, I wonder…?