The Purpose of Power and Privilege

Alondra Contreras, Columnist

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Throughout my four years at Whitman I have asked this question more than once during the P&P Symposium season. As a woman of color, I often find myself doing more work than my white peers. The Power and Privilege Symposium is supposed to provide space for having tough conversations (whatever that means) and it is supposed to amplify voices that often get silenced in traditional settings of discussion.

My session was titled the Racist Rom-Com at Whitman and it consisted of a panel of women of color talking about their experiences in the dating world and how their race contributes to a more complicated version of dating that is usually not explained in a normal Nicholas Sparks movie. Inevitably the famous Power and Privilege Symposium question was brought up: “We know these issues exist, what can we do to improve the overall experience of everyone’s lives?” I understand that listening to trauma and listening to people’s pain, and not being able to find a solution to fix their pain, as a person in a privileged position, can be frustrating. The reason this question is frustrating for me is because it completely discredits the amount of work I, alongside the other people on my panel, put into my session. Instead of asking questions about finding “better” solutions of tackling issues of race (or whatever the topic of oppression is), just listen to what has to be said and what work was already done and move forward from there.

It can be surprising how productive a congregation of attentive listeners can be and we must acknowledge the amount of power these spaces hold. I feel Whitman students have the desire to find a clean-cut solution to intertwining and three-dimensional problems, and get uncomfortable when the real world does not work that way. As a soon-to-be adult entering the real world, I am realizing that normal jobs don’t cancel a workday to emphasize discussions of systemic oppression, decolonizing the mind and the importance of listening to each other. After attending the Power and Privilege Symposiums, I realize it is going to be difficult to find spaces like these, and that like most privileged, highly educated people in the U.S., we may inevitably get stuck in a routine and continue the cycle of complacency; unless we take advantage of these moments and apply them beyond Whitman College, which, in my opinion, is what Power and Privilege really does (yes, it really all ties back into capitalism and building those interpersonal skills!).

To go back to the original question, we can best improve the lives of each other by taking these stories and narratives seriously and be more critical about how we interact with our own power and privilege in our daily lives. To ask such a grand question to people that are your peers is like asking a child to end poverty in a day. The Power and Privilege Symposium is for both those that go throughout their days not always recognizing their privileges, but also for those that are tired of having inner thoughts kept as “inner thoughts.” In other words, Power and Privilege is a confined time and space where unpopular opinions and purposely avoided conversations take place. Many people will say that Power and Privilege Symposium is not for them, but the Power and Privilege Symposium is for everyone at Whitman because everyone has some sort of privilege; but at the same time, it is a chance to acknowledge that there is an unfair share of work being done by marginalized groups on campus that is disproportionately being consumed by those with a higher privilege statuses.