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Discussion exercise for reflection on power and privilege

The purpose of this exercise is to have some ideas and perceptions examined and reflected upon. Discussions can be beneficial when they are rooted in respect and openness. Working across differences can be a beginning to greater understanding between us. The following exercise maybe new to some of you and some of you may have done this in the past; nonetheless it is a good exercise to participate in. In doing this exercise it is important that you be authentic and honest; this is not about guilt, blame or shame. It is about growth and awareness. Take your time and be mindful of how you are feeling while doing this exercise. This is a confidential and personal exercise, if you wish to share at the next team meeting you are free to do so, however if you are not interested in sharing then you are also free to do that also. Sit back and enjoy the learning and the unlearning. Acknowledge when and if you become uncomfortable and deconstruct what is happening for you and why you may be having the feelings you are having.

Liberation Theory (Adapted from the Racial Justice Institute Foundation Guide, Ricky Sherover-Marcuse, Ph.D.) Liberation is both the undoing of the effects and the transformation of the causes of social oppression. The undoing and the transformation must occur at the both institution level (the political) and at the level of group and individual interactions (the personal). Liberation involves changing oppressive behavioural patterns and unlearning oppressive attitudes, assumptions and responses to sharing power. Oppression is the systematic and pervasive mistreatment of human beings on the basis of their membership in various groups. Oppression includes both institutionalized or normalized mistreatment as well as instances of violence. 1. Oppression is a learned behaviour! The perpetuation of oppression is made possible by the conditioning of new generations of human beings into the role of being oppressed and the role of being oppressive. In a society in which there is oppression, everyone (at one time or another) gets socialized into both of these roles. Individuals will move in and out of oppressor and target roles throughout their life. 2. You were not born an oppressor! No one is naturally or genetically oppressive; no human being is born as an oppressor. No one is naturally or genetically destined to be oppressed; no one is born to be oppressed. 3. The conditioning of both groups, the target group and the non-target group of any given oppression (remember there are many), takes place through a very specific form of oppression, the oppression of children and young people. In a society in which there is oppression, all children and young people will be the targets of this systemic mistreatement.

4. The positive re-enforcements and social rewards that people get for going along with this conditioning would not themselves be sufficient to secure their acceptance of the social roles of oppressor or oppressed. The acceptance of these societal roles is first made possible as a result of the individuals own experience of oppression, originally as a child/young person. 5. Being socialized into the oppressed role is a painful experience for children and young people. Being socialized into the oppressor role is a painful experience for children and young people of the non-target group in spite of the positive reinforcements and material benefits that go along with this role. 6. Part of the conditioning experience is the misinformation that socialization into these roles is not painful. In some cases the pain of the conditioning is recognized for people in the target group. It is seldom recognized for people in the non-target group. The conditioning experiences are portrayed as a normal part of growing up. Often the original awareness that this socialization was painful gets obscured or forgotten. The perpetuation of any particular oppression requires that the pain of being socialized into either the oppressed or the oppressor role be forgotten, or discounted. The discounting or normalizing of the painful aspects of the conditioning process thus becomes a means of perpetuating all forms of oppression. 7. People who are the targets of any particular form of oppression have resisted and attempted to resist their socialization in any way they could. The fact that this resistance is generally not recognized is also a feature of the oppression. 8. People who are the non-targets of any particular form of oppression have resisted and attempted to resist their socialization into the oppressive role. The fact that this resistance is generally not recognized is also a feature of the oppression In addition to force and the threat of force, oppression is perpetuated through the generations by a recycling of systemic misinformation about the nature, history and the abilities of the target group. Because this misinformation is socially empowered and sanctioned, it functions as the justification for the continued mistreatment of the target group. Each group targeted by oppression inevitably internalizes the mistreatment and the misinformation about itself. The target group thus mis-believes about itself the same misinformation which pervades the social system. This mis-believing expresses itself in behaviour and interactions between members of the target group which repeat the content of their oppression. It is the single most effective result of oppression and serves to ensure the continued perpetuation of all forms of oppression. Internalized oppression is always an involuntary reaction to the experience of oppression reaction to the experience of oppression on the part of the target group. To blame the target group in any way for having internalized the consequences of oppression is in itself an act of oppression. 9. Biological/cultural/ethnic/religious/gender/age/ability differences between human beings are never the cause of the oppression. The use of these differences to explain either

why certain groups of people are oppressed or why certain groups of people behave oppressively functions as a justification of various forms of oppression. 10. Differences in class, in social and economic power, in educational opportunity and achievement, in health and physical well being, are the expression and result of an oppressive system. Such differences perpetuate and increase the social imbalances in power. These differences serve to perpetuate oppression.

Liberation Theory Exercise

Take 15 minutes to answer the questions below; you can share some of your answers in the large group if you choose. Remember that this exercise is not about judging your experience or the experience of other participants. Everyones experiences are valid and valuable to the learning process. Take the time to be self-reflective and clear in your responses. Remember that all of us have been socialized within an oppressive society and will have had all or some of the experiences identified in the questions. Spend some time trying to get at the heart of an old memory, attempt to articulate what happened and what your felt. 1. What is your earliest memory of being socialized into the role of the oppressor?

2. What is your earliest memory of being socialized into the role of being oppressed?

3. What were some of the social rewards you received for conforming?

4. Can you remember a time when you resisted either being oppressed or conforming to the role of oppressor, if so what happened and how did you feel?

Examining Power and Privilege Worksheet Understanding your social locations and being able to identify where you enjoy dominant group privilege is integral to participating in the integration of an anti-oppression anti-racist framework personally, professionally, organizationally and politically. 1. My social locations are:

Now pick a social location where you have privilege. 2. The power I enjoy from this social location is;

3. The privileges that I derive from this are; Social



4. How does this impact the way I navigate my world?

5. How does this impact my co-workers/friends?

6. How does this impact the youth at the shelter?

The long term plan is to do this exercise several times with all of your places of privileges until you have moved through all of them. I do this often, because it helps to ground me and brings clarity to what can sometimes be muddled feelings of poor me syndrome, and/or denial of power and that privilege guilt. Privilege guilt is not helpful in this learning process as it can stop you from moving forward. It is helpful to discuss this guilt with someone you feel safe with. It is particularly effective to do this exercise if you are in conflict with another person to look at whether or not your privilege is playing a role in the conflict it is a good way to check out ones own stuff.

Critical Self Reflection Social Service or Social Change?

The purpose of this exercise is to take an honest look at who you are in relations to the work that you do, why you choose this work, what it is you are really doing/ It poses the challenge that as social service providers we have all been to a greater or lesser degree co-opted. Take your time to answer the questions, you will not be forced to share your responses with your coworkers and there is no collection of any part of this exercise. This exercise is for YOU. However, if you would like to share something with your co-workers you can certainly do that. My first answer to the question posed in the title is that we need both. We need to provide services to youth who require the service, for those trying to survive, for those who are barely making it. We need to work for social change so that we can create a society in which our institutions and organizations are equitable and just all people are safe, adequately fed, adequately housed, well educated, able to work at safe, decent jobs, and able to participate in the decisions that affect their lives. Although the title of this article may be misleading in contrasting social service provision and social change work the two do not necessarily go together easily and in many instances they do not go together at all. There are some groups working for social change that are providing social service; there are many more groups providing social service that are not working for social change. In fact, many social service agencies may be intentionally or inadvertently working to maintain the status quo. Ask yourself are you doing this work based on a Charity Model or are you advocating for social justice.

About You Are you part of any group which has organized to gain for itself more access to voting rights, jobs, housing, education, or an end to violence or exploitation such as workers, women, people of colour, people with disabilities, seniors, youth, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, trans people, or people whose religion are not respected?

How have those struggles benefited your life?

How have those struggles been resisted by the ruling class (those with the most power)?

What is the current state of those movements you have been closest to?

Who are you in solidarity within the pyramid who would you like to support through the work that you do people at the top of the pyramid, people in the buffer zone, or people at the bottom?

What are the historical roots of the work that you do?

What were your motivations or intentions when you began doing this work?

Who actually benefits from the work that you do?

Are there ways through your work, your family role, or your role in the community that you have come to endorse the status quo or train young people for their role in it?

Getting Ahead or Getting Together Getting ahead is the mantra of capitalism. Getting ahead is what we try to do in our lives. Getting ahead is what we urge our children to do. Getting ahead is what we urge our clients to do. Getting ahead is how many of us define success. Societies are built on the myth that the deserving get ahead. Many people believe that it is the responsibility of our society to see to it that everyone has an equal shot at getting ahead. Many of our recent political struggles around civil rights, equity and inclusion, and the end of various forms of discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals, trans people, people with disabilities, women, people of colour, youth, and newcomers have become defined as struggles for equal opportunity for everyone to compete to get ahead. In the pyramid shaped economic system only a few can get ahead. Many are doomed to stay exactly where they are, at the bottom of the pyramid, or even fall behind. With so much wealth concentrated in the top of the pyramid there are not enough jobs, not enough housing, not enough health care, not enough money for education for most people to get ahead. How does the system change? How do people gain access to money, jobs, education, housing and other resources? Historically, change happens when people get together. In fact, we have a long history thousands of examples of people getting together for social change. Each of these efforts involved people indentifying common goals, figuring out how to work together and support each other and coming up with strategies for forcing organizational and institutional change. When people get together they build community by establishing projects, organizations, friendships, connections, coalitions, alliances and understanding of differences. They do not acquiesce to, but rather fight against the agenda of the ruling class (to the youth YOU are the ruling class). They are in a contentious relationship with power when it is not shared for a common good. When we provide social services to help people get ahead we can also help them to get together with others for social empowerment and change. Providing services gives up contact with community members, gives us credibility and experience upon which we can build strategies for social change. I think the difference between getting ahead individually and getting together as a group can guide us in thinking about whether we are empowering people to work for social change at the same time as we are providing them with social services. Ask Yourself Is the primary goal of the work you do to help people to get ahead or to help them get together?

How do you connect people to others in their situation?

How do you nurture and develop leadership skills in the people you serve?

How do you insure that they represent themselves in the agency and other levels of decision making that affects their lives (departure forms, feedback, evaluations, focus groups)

Do you provide them with the information not only related to their own needs, but about how the larger social/political/economic system works to their disadvantage?

Do you create situations in which they can experience their personal power, their connection to others, and their ability to work together for change?

Do you help people understand and feel connected to the ongoing history of peoples struggles to challenge violence, exploitation and injustice? Youth can find their power, but sometimes they need some direction.

Can you imagine an end to youth homelessness?

What do you think it will take?

Does the work that you do contribute to youth homelessness (discharges, intakes, referrals)? How?

How are youth seen in your agency?

Are you providing social service and/or working for social change?

Are you helping clients see that they are not alone, their problems are not unique and that the struggles are interrelated? This does not mean that they are not unique.

Are you helping them come together for increased consciousness, resource sharing and empowerment?

This exercise has been adapted from the work of Paul Kivel. He has a body of impressive work, which you should check out when you have time.

Paul Kivel is a trainer, activist, writer and a violence prevention and social justice educator. He develops and conducts interactive and participatory talks and workshops on such topics as alternatives to violence, racism, class and economics, family violence and sexual assault, and parenting. You can contact Paul Kivel at or at