Make empowerment a daily practice, not just a yearly one
March has been labeled ‘Women’s History Month’ because women are amazing and deserve to be celebrated. However, it can be disheartening that despite it being 2018, we still need specific months to ensure that we recognize the human dignity of women and people of color, and hopefully take action to acknowledge and reject practices that oppress both groups. A retort often made in response is: Why isn’t there a ‘White Male History Month?’ Well to be blunt, because that is every month, and in schools across the nation, it’s usually taught as just ‘history.’
This isn’t to say that in all cases white males are actively and consciously perpetuating domination over women and minorities, but it’s so ingrained in our systems and social norms that it doesn’t have to be intentional for it to happen, and unfortunately, many of us contribute to these systems. However, that doesn’t excuse the pain inflicted simply because it was involuntary, we all have the responsibility to use the privilege bestowed on us (whatever that may be), to dismantle systems of oppression even if it makes us uncomfortable.
Social justice and Catholic Social Teaching encourage everyone everywhere to stand in solidarity with the marginalized. An important distinction to take notice of is that this is not the same as standing up for the marginalized, which implies an unhealthy dependency and that they aren’t able to voice their concerns on their own. Let me be extremely clear. Women and people of color can speak for themselves; they do not need anyone to speak for them. However, white men and other people in positions of power and authority need to care about and support dismantling social, economic, racial and gendered oppression even if they might not experience it. This is not to be seen as an attack, it’s simply a comment on the reality of the times.
Here are some tangible steps that anyone could and should take to educate themselves on empowerment:
1. Don’t interrupt people. Yes, this is a big problem and, yes, it is that simple.
2. Know when to use your privilege and know when to let others speak for themselves. Read the situation.
3. Take initiative and self-educate through literature or films created by people of color and women. Others should not be expected to teach you so use the tools available to you.
4. Listen. Listen. Listen. Listen. Listen simply to understand and not to argue, put down, or respond.
5. Ardently try to empathize but ultimately understand that you will never fully comprehend. So, please make sure not to judge what you cannot understand.