This post is the second in a series of blog posts written by the SSDP Career Services Diversity and Inclusion Intern, Jan Farias, for the Fall 2016 semester. The purpose of this internship was to analyze the SSDP Career Services Program and identify concrete ways that our organization can better serve marginalized communities.
The War on Drugs affects a large amount of people in the United States, and because of that, Students for Sensible Drug Policy strives to be a multi-cultural organization with diverse perspectives. About 23% of SSDP chapter leaders identify as people of color, according to data gathered by SSDP’s Diversity Awareness Reflection and Education (DARE) committee in 2016. As a majority white organization, what can we do to combat racial bias in policy and within our chapters? Becoming a more equitable organization requires individuals to confront their own implicit bias and privilege. Identifying as cisgender, male, white, able bodied, neurotypical, and/or straight can allow us to maneuver in systems more easily than others. People can feel confused, angry, or guilty for being privileged. It can influence the way we take up space and treat others. Although it may be uncomfortable at first, uncovering our prejudices will help us grow as activists and create a more open and honest community.
Below are some practices you can adopt to become a better ally in SSDP.
Listen, listen, listen
A fundamental practice in allyship is learning how to fully listen. While this seems simple, it is actually a complex practice that is intertwined with our identities, power and privilege. When holding chapter meetings, notice who is and isn’t speaking in the room. Are there some people who dominate the conversation and don’t allow enough space for others to talk about their perspective? Taking over or interrupting conversations being led by marginalized folks can be an extension of privilege. Without listening, we will never be prepared to engage in activism.
Rephrase the question
Participating in policy reform or voting efforts can be completely inaccessible to some marginalized SSDP members, like undocumented students and the formerly incarcerated. Protesting is a tactic used by marginalized groups that are often ignored or feel targeted by political and socio-economic institutions. If you would like to be part of a protest or action as an ally, instead of asking “How can I help,” ask “Do you need help?” This shifts the power into the hands of people who are being directly impacted by unfair policies or institutions. If someone is in a dominant position, sometimes they may try to take on the role of “savior” and enter a movement with the intent to become a leader or save the marginalized community. Although your heart might be in the right place, this just further perpetuates white supremacy.
Committing to making drug policy more sensible means digging deeper into knowing and educating ourselves about world we find ourselves in. In the U.S., there is a legacy of genocide, assimilation, and criminalization of people of color. Taking a look at past and present institutional oppression can provide insight into the oppressive dynamics occurring on the interpersonal level. Once we begin educating ourselves, it’s important to integrate that knowledge into our own practices and strategies for fighting the War on Drugs. Getting information from reliable sources containing firsthand experiences of these issues is of the utmost importance.
While this article mostly focuses on race, there are many other levels of identity that affect the way a person navigates the world. Power and oppression are very complex concepts, and because a person may have some identities that are considered “dominant,” they can still hold identities that are stigmatized, and vice versa. We can’t control the way we were born, but we can control how we support our fellow SSDP members!