Topple my arrogant soapbox

Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/publicenergy

I am irked by public solidarity challenges.

Meaning that my stomach churns and I feel nervous when I hear of ‘challenges’ people of privilege take on for a short amount of time in order to experience the life of the unprivileged, and by such raise money for very well-meaning organizations.

I write this post trepidly, as I realize I am on shaky and arrogant ground here. I LOVE the vision and people of many of these organizations. I am in danger of hurt feelings and causing divides between myself and other social change-ites whom I care about very much. My friend and colleague Aiden Enns recently accepted a public challenge to live on a welfare budget of $4 of food per day and then share about his experiences – this in an attempt by the organizers to raise awareness about food justice. Aiden blogs about it (and his concerns) here. In this post he also mentions another public solidarity challenge by Winnipeg CEOs who spent a night sleeping on the streets in order to raise money for a help-the-homeless program.

I cringe to place Aiden in the same category as the high-powered Winnipeg CEOs, but that is sort of the point.

What makes me churn about these challenges is the fact that eating on $4 a day or not having a home only becomes worthy of talking about when socially established people do it.

Whose voices are we privileging in these events? Whose experiences are being overlooked? Don’t these challenges reinforce the unjust division of class that has created these problems? I daresay that living on $4 a day for 4 days when you have access to a kitchen looks very different than doing so long-term without secure housing. I also suspect that spending one night on a Winnipeg street as a large group with constant media presence looks and feels very different than doing so every night by yourself, without the security of a large group or the constant (positive) watch of the downtown Biz patrol.

Why do we highlight the voices of the privileged, and not those who experience these “challenges” daily? What is happening here?

I am ranting here, and my soapbox is getting higher. Let’s turn this into something more positive.

What about turning it on its head? What if the challenge was not to experience the marginalization of another’s life, but to more fully experience the privilege of my own? A public privilege challenge.

So, for the next 5 days I’ll run my arrogant little public privilege challenge on my own social advantages. I will live out my days striving to recognize, better understand, and actively resist my privilege in the following ways;

Day 1 – I am rich
Day 2 – I am able-bodied
Day 3 – I am of European descent
Day 4 – I am cisgender
Day 5 – I am literate

Each morning I will blog about my experiences of the day before in recognizing my own privilege in these ways. Let’s go, public privilege challenge. I clearly need to get off my soapbox and gain some activist humility.

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