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The Greatest History Lessons Are Those We Have Yet to Learn

The article written by Jessica DeBruin, The Greatest History Lessons Are Those We Have Yet to Learn, was published August 2015 on Everyday Democracy‘s site. DeBruin shares some of her history, how it shaped her identity, and explores how our identities play out in our conversations and realities. She emphasizes the importance genuinely listening and participating in conversations where we explore the intersections of our own privilege and oppression. Below is an excerpt from the article and read it in full on Everyday Democracy’s site here.

From the article… 

…There is a notion of being “all talk.” In truth, many actions must be taken to move us forward as a society. Humanity exists on the threads of a tapestry being woven, ever in motion. We may skip a stitch occasionally, or unravel bits of progress, but it is only through collaboration that we may continue. No one thread is more vital to the weaving. Likewise, there are many ways to take action. Some seek political recourse, some take to the streets, some create art, some tell stories, and we all talk.

In this arena I have found a useful application for the intersection of my privilege and my experience as a woman of color. At my core I am a storyteller, and that is just what I do. I can take all my experiences, all the confusion and micro-aggressions, and form them into something meaningful. Over the years I have seen subtle shifts in the attitudes of some of my white friends regarding race and, while I certainly do not take credit for the shift, I know that maintaining a relationship in which we talk about the hard stuff contributes to forming a habit of critical thinking.

I recall a conversation I had recently with a white, straight, cismale coworker of mine. In many ways he has what might be considered the trifecta of social privilege. And yet his nose crinkled in discomfort at the word. He quite earnestly expressed that he didn’t feel this had ever given him any undue advantage in life.

So we chatted about that.

I shared my perspective that privilege is not always about what is given to you, but often about what is not taken from you. Things like the ability to walk safely in public seem like something that should be a given in the United States in 2015, and yet a significant portion of the population does not take that privilege for granted.

When we finished our conversation he thanked me. He had never thought to see the world that way, frankly because he had never had to. As a queer, multi-ethnic woman I have no choice but to consider these things.

We both learned from each other: He left the conversation with insight into a different way of existing in the world. I left it with a better understanding of the ways in which our own privilege is truly a blind spot.

Conversations like these are vital to moving ideas forward.

In critically examining our place in the world and speaking truthfully about our experiences, we make small shifts to guide the direction of our broader cultural discourse. It starts with listening, really listening; the kind of listening that sends a prickle up your spine. Any democracy must be based first on our ability to listen, and then on the gumption to speak with honesty.

Yes, it will be uncomfortable. No individual is entirely privileged or oppressed, and learning your own privilege can be unnerving.

In school we learn that we earn what we have. The rags to riches mythology of extreme economic and social mobility has become a basic tenant of American society. Learning that hard work is not always enough for those who lack privilege can unsettle our sense of self. We want to believe that if and when we have good things it is because we have earned them. But this discomfort is productive if we can allow ourselves to sit with it. Indeed if we are not prepared to dismantle our assumptions about our place in the world, we have not truly learned our instrument.

Human beings possess one of the greatest privileges of all – the ability to intricately and meaningfully exchange ideas. This exchange of ideas has been essential to our advancement as a species. Through everyday conversations I have learned to appreciate the world from multiple perspectives, and I believe that has advanced me as an individual. It has helped me find the small actions I can take in my life to make this the kind of world I can be proud to be a part of.

The greatest history lessons I have ever learned are the testimony of so many remarkable individuals, each with their own set of experiences. The greatest history lessons are those I have yet to learn.

About Jessica DeBruin
Jessica is a writer and actress living in Los Angeles, dedicated to creating feminist, queer-inclusive art and media.

Follow on Twitter: @JessicaLaVerdad

About Everyday Democracy
Everyday Democracy
Everyday Democracy (formerly called the Study Circles Resource Center) is a project of The Paul J. Aicher Foundation, a private operating foundation dedicated to strengthening deliberative democracy and improving the quality of public life in the United States. Since our founding in 1989, we’ve worked with hundreds of communities across the United States on issues such as: racial equity, poverty reduction and economic development, education reform, early childhood development and building strong neighborhoods. We work with national, regional and state organizations in order to leverage our resources and to expand the reach and impact of civic engagement processes and tools.

Follow on Twitter: @EvDem

Resource Link: http://everyday-democracy.org/news/greatest-history-lessons-are-those-we-have-yet-learn

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