As 2017 draws to a close, I have been reflecting on the year that was. Personally, professionally, and globally, it was a hard year for everyone. I have felt utter despair at the societal realities we face, but I also marvel at the resilience of those targeted by discrimination and injustice. With a series of fatal mass shootings, deadly hurricanes still taking lives, and an ongoing purge of the toxic predators that invade offices, social circles, and our own families, this year has whipped us around constantly. It makes self-reflection difficult, and I think that was my own biggest failure this year. How does anyone reach balance when the current state of the world seems as though it will continue into 2018?
When I am faced with exhaustion, I have a hard time seeing my comparatively small struggles as valid. I often push them aside, assuming that taking time for myself would be disrespectful to those going through more with less support to rely on. This year has made me realize the folly of that tendency more fully. At a certain point, my choice to push nonexistent energy outward stops being helpful.
The death of Erica Garner at just 27 years old yesterday brought up all of these issues acutely. The lack of attention the world’s institutions have paid to black women, the trans community, and so many others is appalling. I will never experience it. My access to medical and psychological help, a support system that mostly validates those needs, and circumstances that afford me time to utilize them is staggeringly different compared to others’. The solution, however, is not self-punishment or guilt that often leads privileged individuals to ask permission or validation from others.
That guilt can be not only unproductive for the person experiencing it, but it can also harm others. Check an impulse to ask a friend affected by prejudice if you are a bad person for having “x” privilege. That is placing the emotional work on the wrong party the same way that activism so often is forced on the people suffering from the injustice rather than those aware of their privilege and unwilling to accept its exclusivity.
If you are upset by congress’ inaction on DACA, the lack of resources extended to Puerto Rico, or police violence— act to change that issue. Do not forgo resources you have access to, which might harm you and is an act of privilege in itself. Instead, join a volunteer organization that helps to transport low income individuals to medical resources. Find a shelter to work for that is addressing the needs of homeless LGBTQ+ youth. Donate to the local organizations helping the people in Puerto Rico and other weather-torn areas. At the very least, call your congress people. Do this to make a difference, not to somehow pay for your privilege or to receive validation from others on social media. If you spend half as much time working on the issues you see in tweets and on the news, you can make a meaningful contribution. Doing real work in a volunteer context will provide you with a network of passionate individuals and opportunities for other activism.
Privilege is not a debt you can repay to society with a certain amount of money or time. It is something everyone has in some way, even if it is just living in the United States as compared to a country with no established medical infrastructure. Privilege is something to be aware of and check entirely separately from whatever work you do to combat inequality. It is a lifelong process, but so is struggling to get what you need each and every day when it is not readily provided to you. Pledge to send positive energy outward with work and enjoy the things that you have. Reevaluate the balance of your life, replenish when needed, and return to your work with the resources to do it well.
For a list of charities that help in Puerto Rico and other communities, search Charity Navigator. To learn about and act against racial injustice, join Showing Up for Racial Justice at Showing Up for Racial Justice. For a list of contacts in government, visit Common Cause.