Social Justice Council

Dedicated to social justice at ASL

Rosetta Lee: How to Communicate Diversity

A couple of weeks ago, ASL had the honour of welcoming Rosetta Lee. Lee is a biology teacher at Seattle Girl’s School in Washington State and an expert on Social Justice. On Tuesday, Lee gave a speech in the school centre on the subject of privilege, the day before she had lunch with some of the Social Justice Council on the same subject.

In our discussion, someone asked the question: “How do you stay calm in the face of hostility? When someone makes an ignorant comment, how do you respond to them getting angry when you correct them?”

Lee then said something that I thought was very poignant. When speaking about the popularly labeled “privileged guilt”, Lee explained how that feeling is in fact shame. I can personally testify to this. When I went through the process of recognizing my privilege, I did not feel guilty that I, for example, am of higher socio-economic class than another seventeen year old. I have done nothing (that I am aware of) to prevent anyone else from being in my position. Instead, I feel ashamed, because I’m no more deserving of this position than anyone else, yet here I am.

Lee also explained how people sometimes fight their “shame with shame”. When faced with the fact that you are benefiting from a system through means other than your own merit, one reflex is to try to delegitimize this claim. “I’m not privileged. I may be white, but I’m a teenage girl, so I’m oppressed by ageism and sexism. Therefore, I cannot be benefiting as much as you’re telling me”.

Here’s the thing, privilege is not synonymous with flawlessness. Everyone has problems, that’s just a given. To have privilege isn’t to be sitting on a yacht in the south of France sipping on a Martini. It’s to have one less thing to bear in everyday life. As a white cis (meaning the gender that I identify with matches what I was assigned at birth) female, no one is avoiding being near me on the sidewalk or clutching their bag a little bit tighter. But for others, that happens everyday, and I imagine that it is very tiring.

Towards the end of her presentation, Lee showed us a cycle of social justice advocacy. The last step in the process was to use one’s own privilege to aid the furthering of other people’s progress. I would think for Lee, as well as myself, this is the ideal place for every advocate to eventually get to. I recognise this is hard to do, but the point is that we all try.

Written by : Sydney Martin ('16)