On Justice & Privilege

June 09, 2020 3 min read

1 Comment

A few stories, as I parse through the complexities of privilege & justice…


Growing Up Together

When I was in Bangladesh, we visited a village outside of Jashore (a city in which Basha has a production centre, where I visited a brothel) to call on some homes of women who sew blankets for Basha

We spent time visiting in Dhomina’s relatively large home. The space had been expanded to include a separate cooking space — built upon because of the income she earned making kantha for Basha, for us. Amazing!

As 5 of us sat together, the women chatted in Bengali. There was a big surge of laughter and later, I asked my companion, Boby, about the joke. She relayed,


When Dhomina got married, she was very young, like 11 or 12. She joked that when she had her son (now an adult), they both grew up right alongside each other!


*This* is a joke?! I thought, my eyes wide.

My daughter is 11. The idea of her being married and having a child within the next couple of years is not humorous, it’s appalling. 

(This conversation was also a lesson in great respect for the (to me) unfathomable resilience of Dhomina and many other women I met.) 

 

I Don’t Understand

My son (6), daughter (9), & I have been reading through C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series — right now we’re finishing up The Horse and His Boy.

One plot point in the novel involves a “girl”, Aravis, who is running away from her home country to avoid being married to the Grand Vizier, an old man of political status chosen by her father. 

My son said to me one night, “I just don’t understand why the girl would be getting married to that old man ?!?”

 

Privilege

The very first thought that came to my mind, considering the current climate, was "This is privilege..."

My three children live in the privilege of having no concept of child marriage. I live in the privilege that this will never be the reality for their lives, or for any of their friends. I live in the privilege of seeing a flyer for "part-time work, call this number" in my neighborhood and not worrying that it is a trick to lure job-seekers into trafficking or modern-day slavery.

My normalcy does not feel like a special privilege; anything less than this "privilege" which I take for granted feels subnormal... unacceptable. But my life — as a white, rich woman in the West — is, in fact, a "normal" that is not reality for the majority of humans around the globe.

Including — as we are currently reckoning with — residents of my own country, city, neighborhood.

 

Comparisons 

Nicholas Kristof is an opinion columnist for the New York Times whose career has been dedicated to what I would call "the sad things of the world". This was the intro of his newsletter this week: 

What is my reaction supposed to be to this fact? 

Should I be shocked & appalled? The United States of America is supposed to be one of the wealthiest countries in the world, an empire of freedom & success. That any category of citizens should have a shorter life expectancy than residents of a "least developed nation" is, indeed, dramatic and troubling.

But, reading this statistic also felt incredibly awkward... what does a comparison like this imply about "a boy born in Bangladesh or India"?

 

Justice is work

Anti-racism is a work for everybody. But, there is also work to be done for those boys "in Bangladesh or India". For Dhomina, the child bride. Frankly, there is suffering that permeates every nation, every language, every place on this planet.

The swell of support, visibility, and pressure of #BlackLivesMatter is long overdue and necessary. I hope that significant, revolutionary change, both personally & on a systemic level, is accelerated as a result.

But, as I read on one Instagram conversation, "Just because it's fun today, doesn't mean it's done tomorrow." The protests will end. Injustice will remain.

Learning & listening are lifelong pursuits, and I have felt prodded in my own heart to actively seek voices who don't hold my same privilege.

But... Justice is work: dedicated, sustained work. When the hashtags die down and the streets are swept, I will be glad that the servants for racial justice who preceded me will continue in their dedication (Equal Justice Initiative, Homeboy Industries are two examples with 30+ years at it already). And, I'll be thrilled for the new ventures of sustained work in racial reconciliation that have just begun in this month.

 

The work continues

I'm also thankful for the ones who have continued in their focus on other marginalized people & needs around the globe: Preemptive Love, charity:water, and, of course, Friends of Basha (to name a very few).

We are a work in progress. But, the work continues.

 

 


1 Response

Dad
Dad

June 14, 2020

Excellent note Shelley. The divide between reality and beliefs/rhetoric remains wide in many directions and is systemic, requiring positive leadership actions.

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