Privilege and oppression: two sides of the same coin is the title of this slide, part of a PowerPoint presentation by Terry Keleher, a keynote speaker at Holland, Michigan’s annual “Summit on Race and Inclusion” held this week. Many of my friends and neighbors disagree, thinking individual effort is the key to the “good life.”
My own story challenges that assumption. I was born in Holland, Michigan at a time when the public school system did many things well, including teaching grammar and spelling. I was born into a family that did a few things well, including modeling a strong work ethic. Just months before my birth, my parents had come to Holland, Michigan, from their birthplaces in the hills of Kentucky. My father has a sixth grade education and my mother completed high school (although the schools would not pass today’s standards for a quality education and my parents would likely not pass the standardized tests). IF they had not moved, I would not have the education that propelled me onto two university degrees. Without some higher education, I would not have had careers in banking, economic development, and teaching. Most likely, I would not in semi-retirement be interacting with people who support my continued learning and civic engagement.
Did I construct my own destiny? NO! I was born in the right place to parents who had the courage to move from their home and who worked hard. Many people have as much ability as I do but either don’t have the educational base or the will to succeed because they’ve not seen positive outcomes of working beyond adversity. (And the positive outcomes are much less visible than in my youth–even to graduates.)
If you agree that we don’t construct our own destiny, and would like to be a part of reducing oppression, then please follow this suggestion from Charles M. Blow: According to Blow in a NYTimes editorial he wrote on June 6, we need to “have a conversation about the direction of the country that takes that [government involvement] into account but lifts the language to a level where common goals can be seen from differing racial vantage points — to show a way to be merciful to those struggling while providing a path to financial independence and social equality.”
Please reply here or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you’re willing to include me among those you engage in this conversation.
[The source for the image is: “‘Better Together: Fostering Unity Through Equity,” by Terry Keleher, Applied Research Center, 6/5/12.” Posted with permission.”]