Images from Power and Privilege 2024
Last week we reached the end of our six-week online learning circle on Power and Privilege. Eight students and three program staff gathered on zoom twice a week to explore the structures that impact us, society, and the church. This requires a certain amount of self-reflection, as we come to terms with our own privilege and the ways privilege can make it hard to recognize or acknowledge oppressions that we ourselves don’t experience. It’s not always comfortable, but all the students were committed to working through discomfort together. They created brave space.
In an introductory session we considered a number of rubrics for understanding power. (Power can be visible, hidden, or invisible. Power can be “power over” or “power with” or “power for” or “power within”. Power can come from coercion, or collaboration, or position, or numbers, etc.) And we explored the nuanced and complicated ways that these different aspects of power can interact in any given context through a “rubric’s cube”. Power is complex, and our conversations have had us reflecting on the difference between intention and impact, the difference between social analysis that probes hidden power structures and conspiracy theory that polarizes and feeds on our fears, and whether power is bad. “Social Analysis Barbie” with her stylish glasses for seeing patterns of injustice, her headset for listening to voices from the margins, and her semi-transparent stand (because where you stand will affect what you can see) invited us to ask critical questions. A session on “Prophetic Diakonia” asked us to reflect on the history of the diaconate and note the times when deacons and deaconesses have been agents of change speaking truth to power and when they have been domesticated to support an institutional status quo.
A student-led session helped us unpack the historical Social Gospel movement and its implications for today, and another student-led session invited us to reflect on how power plays out in congregations and denominations.
Over the course of the circle, students gathered in small groups to discuss the book Nice Racism by Robin DiAngelo, which explores the ways that nice, progressive, well-intentioned white people can cause harm to people of colour, despite (or because of) their apparent niceness. There was lots of soul-searching as students wrestled with this text and their experience in communities of faith. At a special online anti-racism event earlier this week, students shared the impact this book study has had on them, and engaged in conversation with others about how to act ethically and transformatively as people of privilege in a society undergirded by racism.
Early in the circle, Diaconal Ministry student Sarah Williams says, “Power & Privilege is a life changing learning circle. I’m in week one and the learnings have already been indispensable in familial, social & ministry contexts. I am learning new ways to communicate and perceive systemic racism and how it is embedded in the structures and systems of our society. The book, Nice Racism is a must-read for anyone looking to do the work of anti-racism.”
Diaconal Ministry student Ally Phillips jokingly complained, “Couldn’t we just once learn something totally abstract?? Does everything have to be immediately applicable?? I learn something about power and privilege in the learning circle… and the next week it walks in through my door at the church!”
If these sort of conversations intrigue you, consider attending the in-person social justice learning circle Oppression and Resistance this April.