Unlike the other participants in SPP, I took the course for credit at MIIS, and the credits were added to my Fall semester workload. It is now December 14th, and the end of the semester is just around the corner, BUT I have not finished all of the supplementary work I need to in order to receive academic credit for SPP. I could easily beat myself up for not being more proactive and instead waiting until the last minute to write blog posts, but, in all honesty, I am thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to go back over the readings and my notes and reflections from SPP…even though it is now four months after the program ended. I feel like this is giving me an opportunity to revisit three of the richest and most challenging/inspiring weeks I’ve ever lived through. I also appreciate how this is forcing me to refresh my knowledge on the topics we covered because it is apparent that I didn’t retain as much as I could have (or wish I had!). Fortunately for me, I still have all of the course materials and I am just as interested in peace building as I ever was before. This is also a good reminder that I will be a lifelong student of peace building and I should always be revisiting what I learned in the past.
With that said, instead of continuing to analyze some of the themes/topics and lessons learned from SPP, in this blog post I want to write about two formative events that took place at MIIS this semester. I think they directly relate to what I studied in SPP and they keep popping up in my head as I revisit the SPP curriculum.
The first event was having Dr. Peggy McIntosh as the keynote speaker at the annual conference put on by the Center for Conflict Studies (the center is directed by Dr. Pushpa Iyer and organizes SPP every year. I also had the opportunity to work for CCS during my first semester at MIIS). This year’s conference was titled: Breaking Through Shades of Color: Transforming Race Relations and Conflict.
This was the fifth annual conference put on by CCS, and they now have quite a reputation for brining together inspiring activists, artists, academics, practitioners, among others, for three days of storytelling, panel presentations, discussions, films, theatrical performances, community building, and so much more than I can ever express. The point I’m trying to make is that these conferences are special. It is not your traditional academic setting where experts talk about what they’ve accomplished/what they know and open it up for questions. Instead, the CCS conferences encourage a much more interactive experience where thought leaders and newbies come together and learn in a dynamic space that is conducive to sharing, reflection, and analysis through deep/crucial conversations and activities. I really love these conferences and hope to attend many more in the future.
Before I revisit her keynote address, I want to say that Peggy McIntosh was one of the most influential scholars on my late teenage/early twenty years). I still remember reading her famous article, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” when I was 17 years old and the speechless awe I felt afterwards. How had I lived on this earth for almost two decades and was completely oblivious to how much unearned privileged I carried with me everywhere I went simply because of the color of my skin? Sure, I had explored issues around racial injustice and knew there were systems in place that disadvantaged people of color, but I was overwhelmingly oblivious to how deep this issue permeated into the very structure of U.S. society, and also the extent of advantage and privilege it gave me. Fortunately, Peggy McIntosh (and the help of several other inspiring and patient mentors) woke me up!
Remembering how Dr. McIntosh had shaped my teenage years and played a pivotal role in inspiring me/helping me to become an advocate for racial equity and social justice throughout my time as an undergraduate, I felt very fortunate to get the chance meet her this past November at the conference. And, just as my expectations alluded to her being great, she was truly magnificent. 🙂
Dr. McIntosh spent a good amount of time sharing her story of how she came to realize both her white privilege and internalized racism. She humbly spoke about how she would often feel noble for working with people of color during a time when few others would. Yet, she recalled that she was still looking at her coworkers of color as if they were lesser or different than her and her white counterparts. She was tolerating them, but she was not accepting them. Dr. McIntosh then compared this to the way she felt when her male coworkers would allow her to work with them, but they usually failed to acknowledge her abilities, intelligence, and potential. Something clicked for her back then, and we have all reaped the benefits. Since beginning to understand the way in which her behaviors and attitude were not supportive or accepting of people of color, her journey as a feminist and anti-racism activist took off.
In addition to sharing her personal journey, Dr. McIntosh asked the audience to participate in a reflective exercise. We divided ourselves into pairs and were given two minutes to share openly about advantages and disadvantages that we’ve all faced in our lives. Whoever wasn’t speaking would listen actively, but without showing any emotion whatsoever, or responding to the person talking in any way. After two minutes the speaker and listener would switch. We also did a second round where we talked about things we have done to weaken systems of oppression around us, and things we wish we had done. Rereading this on the screen, my words don’t exhibit the powerful experience that this activity created. Although my partner was a good friend of mine, I learned things about his identity and past that I would never have learned otherwise. I also discovered aspects of my own privilege, as well as deep regrets around specific events, that I hadn’t given myself the opportunity to explore. In less than ten minutes, the entire audience had been transformed and the energy in that auditorium seemed completely different.
However, this activity is just one example of how her keynote address was able to challenge the audience to think in new ways. When I think back on the other parts of her talk, one phrase that has consistently stood out to me is “I am a body in the body of the world.” I won’t retell the story of how this phrase came about, but I think the point Dr. McIntosh was making is that that we are all connected through our humanity – the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful that lives in each of us – but, at the same time, each one of us is also unique and moves through the world in their own beautiful way. As I continue to reflect on what she shared, and also what I experienced in SPP, my goal is to learn to embrace this way of viewing humanity so that I may do a better job at dismantling my own biases and assumptions about what is appropriate, right, normal etc…After all, I am only one body in the body of the world, but I can make that one body stronger and wiser if I am intentional and committed. Perhaps I’ll start by reading every paper by Dr. McIntosh that I can get my hands on. 🙂