Thursday, July 9, 2015

Jose Carlos Vargas (CSP 2005) attended the Healing History gathering in Richmond this past April. He and his wife created an organization called Solidaridad Internacional Kanda (SiKanda) , which focuses on social inclusion and economic development of people who live in slums and landfills in southern Mexico.  

José Carlos VargasIn Mexico there is a common belief that we are a society where economic disparities and classism exist, but we do not acknowledge the presence of racism in our culture.  Yet in every advertisement, in every TV program, and in the majority of universities, companies and government entities, middle or top officials featured are white, or have a fair skin tone.

The Healing History conference made me better understand how various practices, customs and ideologies in my society seek to justify the unequal distribution of privileges, rights or goods among different racial groups and also across gender.

One important lesson that I learned at the conference is that privilege, particularly the one linked to whiteness and maleness, is an institutional, rather than personal, set of advantages granted to those of us, who by race or gender, resemble the people who occupy powerful positions in our institutions.

But how do I change that privilege?  A simple, but effective step that I learned is not to fall into the making-decisions-for-everyone syndrome.

This means that as a male, fairly white, Latino person, I actually have more opportunities to make decisions than others do.  As a director of a NGO, I unconsciously (and sometimes not) make plans in my head, and then present that scheme to my co-workers for approval.

But if I truly want to involve people in creating a project, then it means building things together from the beginning.  Not presenting a defined plan to my colleagues, and then adding some of their ideas to make them feel involved.

As I enter a meeting room, facilitate a community meeting, or simply walk into the office, I now take the time to see who is around me, especially those who may not have the same opportunities because of their race, gender or class.  I am convinced that I must include the voice of others in conversations, planning and action.  This is an effective way of undoing racism, dismantling the privilege of my race and gender embedded in our society.