Guest blog post by Brian Parsons, abolitionist
So there I was, right? I had a brilliant idea for a blog that would bring awareness to fair compensation for survivor leaders in the anti-human trafficking movement who speak at human trafficking events. I just needed to gather some critical data from a key demographic first. This is going to be great! Then it happened. I opened my big mouth. With the best of intentions, which subsequently amounts to very little when you genuinely offend someone, I inadvertently incited a very heated and unwelcome debate in the single most insensitive way I could have possibly conducted it in and I singlehandedly insulted every survivor in the movement whether they felt offended or not. Smooth. Some “ally”, right?
I’m white. I’m a guy. I’m American. I’m heterosexual. I’m really not doing any of these on purpose. They all just sort of happened. As fate would have it, these factors place me in a very high degree of privilege. A privilege that I take for granted so much, I didn’t even know I had it. Let me please clarify, I am not more valuable than anybody else and nothing is more important to me than the sanctity and unmeasurable worth of all human life. I believe, wholeheartedly, in equality.
Being called out is no fun. But it happened. I totally deserved it. This time it stung more than other times, though. I wasn’t just embarrassed, I was offended. I wasn’t referred to by my name. I was referred to as “white male advocate”. I stayed up half the night thinking about it. I had been referred to as “privileged white male” a dozen or so times before over the course of the three years I’ve been advocating against modern day slavery and always elected to let it slide. This time, I’d had it.
I remember a point in time just before falling asleep thinking, “do these people really think I get my own line with a red carpet at the DMV or something?” Of course they don’t. They couldn’t possibly. So, I reached out. I’m glad I did, because the response I received removed my blinders and opened my eyes.
You know what? It isn’t even about race or gender. It’s about privilege. A privilege I possess, and a privilege I abused. My privilege doesn’t mean I’m wealthier, more important or entitled than anyone else. I’m not. It means that I am automatically granted a particular set of amenities and opportunities in life that may not be available to someone of a different ethnicity or gender than my own just by virtue of being born a white male. Men inarguably make the most income, even if a woman holds the same position. We aren’t often subject to sexism or spousal abuse. If the news covers the story of a crime committed by a white man I am not scrutinized and held accountable the next morning in a public environment as though I am the spokesperson for my race.
I’m listened to. I’m given a chance.
I excluded survivors from a conversation about their own compensation. I felt like if someone’s input insulted a survivor and they debated the answer that nobody else would be willing to contribute to the discussion. Bad move. Shameful.
I created an environment where survivors, who are routinely exploited by anti-human trafficking organizations who do not provide fair compensation for their time, research and hard work, were forced to watch in silence as men with privilege discussed what their time and hard work is worth. I also allowed myself to be one of them. After all, I started it. Of course I didn’t intend for that to happen. None of us did. Everyone in the discussion was trying to be supportive to survivor leaders. What we were actually doing was insulting our fellow advocates who have been through hell and back from the comfort of our own privilege. And it happened because I was too ignorant to prevent it.
To the privileged; I’m not saying we haven’t been through tough times, never been insulted, mistreated, abused, stereotyped, worked hard, been walked on and suffered trauma in our lives. We all hurt from time to time. Nobody’s pain is more valid or legitimate than anybody else’s.
We have influence. We have privilege. We are still vital and necessary to support others in the fight against social injustice. Be cognizant of how your words and actions affect others outside of your fishbowl of privilege. As a white male, initiating an open dialogue where all genders and races were fairly and equally represented would have been a much better use of my privilege. Supporting the statements made by those who don’t share my privilege in the discussion would have been much more beneficial and edifying than imposing exclusion and debating with men that shared my same privilege. You can choose to use your privilege to be supportive or oppressive.
You’ll likely take a bite off your own shoe from time to time, (that’s also part of being a man). And that’s alright too as long as you learn from each mistake. This incident sort of snuck up on me in that I didn’t set out to offend, but that didn’t matter because it’s the only thing that I accomplished.
We have to create and sustain a supportive environment to network with each other in as advocates, survivors and allies. We want growth and success. We need to foster positive relationships with each other on a foundation of effective communication, respect and social awareness.
We all have something in common; we want to see slavery eradicated and justice and freedom delivered to everyone equally. So let’s continue to shuffle our feet towards the sound of the oppression together. We are going to see freedom and love overcome.
About Brian: Jesus freak, Abolitionist, Father, Husband, Musician, Truth and Justice Seeker, U.S. Marine, Fan of Pie. Vice President of Rebecca Bender Ministries and advocate with Traffic Jam. Follow: @SgtBParsons