Because I had clinic in the morning, I wasn't able to get there until it was one hour into the two hour time-slot so I slipped into the back and listened. It seemed that the workshop was largely geared towards those who identified as having class privilege, how to recognize it, and how to how oneself accountable. By the time I arrived we were completing the final prewrite and small group sharing. The “report back to large group phase” turned into a mishmash of disparate ideas and guilty confessions that made only enough sense to imply that a significant amount of deliberation and emotion had sparked their existence. At some point one of the five people of color in the room raised her hand and remarked that she had come to this workshop not because she identified as having class privilege, but because she was trying to learn how to talk to well meaning folks who try to help but in their self-assured ignorance, only end up fucking shit up more.
Meanwhile, I was struggling with my own conflicted feelings. I had come to the workshop because I wanted to work on my own accountability to class privilege. However, upon being faced with a group of not just white folks, but young, hippy, white folks, I was having difficulty engaging with my own privilege due to an inability to identify, and my own lingering irritation, with the folks around me. I was tempted to allow my angry feelings to carry the day, but it occurred to me that doing that would only enable me to avoid the issue that brought me to this workshop to begin with, my privilege.
As I reflected on this I was finally able to verbalize something that I'd been worrying about, but too proud and scared to admit: sometimes I use my minority status as a person of color to diminish my privilege as an educated member of the upper class. It's much more comfortable to focus on our oppressed-selves rather than our oppressor-selves. It's fucked up and it's painful to have to admit that I do it too.
Upon continued meditation, it occurs to me that this sort of behavior is problematic in other ways as well. Not only does it prevent me from acknowledging my own privilege, it actually disrespects the legitimate feelings I have about being a person of color. Both my anger over the state of race relations in this country/world and my pride as a person of color are important and justified; I must have the confidence to remember that being part of the upper class does not take away from its validity. More importantly, using race as a distracter every time I feel defensive or protective of my class privilege is not only irritating to others and a disservice to myself, but it also cheapens the movement of folks of color. And that's fucked up too.
PS: Check out resourcegeneration.org when you get a chance. They organize folks with class privilege and help direct resources responsibly.