I was scheduled to go to a Child Abuse Prevention Conference last week in New Orleans. I hadn’t planned on going because the money was a bit of a stretch. Then two weeks ago I decided to go. As the date approached the weather people were predicting a possible hurricane. Then last Sunday it appeared Hurricane Isaac would hit Louisiana on Wednesday, the first day of the conference. So I did what made sense to me, go a day early to beat Isaac there.
On travel day I was contacted on a layover in Denver that the keynote speaker had cancelled and would I fill in. Sure, I’m game. Two hours later I landed in New Orleans and had several emails that the conference had been canceled. Aw, bummer. No fun and I have to get back on a plane and fly home. I sat down, got online and booked a flight home. Fifty minutes later I was headed home. Poor, poor me. No conference, no speaking gig, no French Quarter, no interesting food.
The only direct link to child sex abuse here is the canceled conference was Child Sex Abuse (CSA) and Exploitation Prevention. But please read on for some more subtle thoughts and perspectives. One of the things that happened to me when I started advocating for victims and survivors of CSA, I suddenly began noticing other groups that were being made victims in various ways. Marginalized populations they are called.
Wikipedia says they are “groups of people that are blocked from rights, opportunities and resources (e.g. housing, employment, healthcare, civic engagement, democratic participation and due process) that are normally available to members of society and which are key to social integration; Social exclusion from full participation in the normal prescribed activities of the society in which they live.” Doesn’t seem fair does it?
In my world, besides victims of child sex abuse, these groups have come to include people of color, victims of domestic violence, gender violence, bullying, rape, lower incomes, and women. These people become victims either by being deprived equal rights and protections by birth, or they are put there by others abusing power.
Now here is the kicker. The opposite side of the universe from marginalized populations is privilege. The people that reside here are also born into it or in some cases worked hard to get there. This group is either closed or only partially open to those who come from the marginalized side of town. White skin, male and fair-haired are the best credentials to acquire admittance.
As I reflected on my day trip to New Orleans and back, I moved from disappointment to appreciation. I had the privilege to come and go as I pleased. How many thousands of people did not have the ability, or the means to get out of the way of Hurricane Isaac or any other storm for that matter? I was recently taught that a definition of power as “the ability to start and stop things.” I take for granted that I can come and go as I please. I can say no if I choose to. There is a growing percentage of our population that has not enjoyed for one day the privilege and power that I assume the right to, the same as breathing.
I ask that you to think about your privilege the next time you see racism, poverty, gender discrimination, domestic violence, or any other group or individual fighting for basic rights. What does the world look like from “over there”? Let’s begin to identify and mark our privilege and work to eliminate the “otherness” in our world. Everyone deserves rights, but do you and I deserve privilege at the expense of others? Let’s make a rule that with privilege comes a duty to work for people who are marginalized in our society. We could call it stewardship! Think about it.