Got privilege? Got a place to offer?
I did my first walk-through in Talent recently, nearly four weeks after the Almeda fire.
For four weeks, I stayed inside, my abode still standing, saw the photos, felt my heart breaking open, yet not able to take myself out there to see it. I am still in shock from the viewing. Downtown was as I remembered it, on one side of the street; blackened remains on the other. My mind could not even piece together what used to be there.
What do I do?
I have many privileges, as do many here. I have white skin privilege; economic privilege, my income not interrupted by the COVID downturn. I have, so far, good health privilege, getting around, driving, walking, hardly ever need a doctor. I have privilege, being straight and married. I have less privilege, being over 65, becoming less visible, and being a woman, grappling with internalized and externalized sexism.
Can I use any of this privilege to make a difference to families impacted by the fire? What do I do?
I donate supplies and money here and there. Am I done? What holds me back from doing more?
After the fire, I learned that a grassroots group had formed to find housing and provide continuing support to families affected by the fire, especially Hispanic and migrant families.
The group Long Term Secure Short Term Housing Project (LTSST), a long name for the long term, is doing so much.
What was I doing?
They were finding people with means who may have a studio, or empty house, or for a house for sale that could be taken off the market; coordinating families with these “home offerers,” acquiring furnishings, cash for groceries, all with little to no red tape. A vision of a world to come.
A neighbor is moving, “No, those beds cannot go to the dump. I’ll hold them until there is a need.” Items get picked up, taken to a family’s new place, a huge feat of coordination and heart.
I asked myself, could I offer my workroom, turn it into a bedroom for one person, might free up a larger space for a family to stay together.
I said, “yes!” then, a crack in my bubble. “A stranger in my house,” I thought, “during COVID?” Even considering this started to give me a stomachache. It came smack into conflict with a lot of my white, U.S. conditioning.
“Let the agencies do this. I don’t live in a village. Property ownership is a sacred cow.” Things I am embarrassed to admit went through this “liberal, good person’s” head.
Do I have an obligation to support here? I want the answer to be yes.
I am probably not alone with dueling sensations of feeling “frozen” or with an urgency to “fix things.” Neither gets me very far. There are centuries here of internalizing this pretzel-making conditioning.
Yet to stretch these contorted feelings, to undo the pretzel, I must admit this is not easy and is very uncomfortable. It takes practice. That is why I write.
We don’t undo this alone. Having valued independent achievement and separateness for so long is how we got to this contorted place.
What do I do?
I connect with others. Actions help, even small ones. I offer my garage to store furnishings. I have challenging conversations with neighbors who have a house that is empty.
Without more creative thinking, like I see happening with LTSST, folks are going to be in tents this winter, and that is unthinkable, though it has been true and unthinkable for years before the fire set in. There are a lot of people with means in the area. Could we practice being freer with those means? Yes, we can.
To do this, and in service to our own wholeness, we can come to grips with our whiteness, our privilege, and see how deeply it is ingrained. A crisis like this makes for an opportunity to do just that.
Toni Lovaglia and the Deconstructing Whiteness Planning Team offer monthly educational practice of cracking through the lens of whiteness and privilege. Their next offering is Thursday, Oct. 22 – a Zoom session from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. To RSVP, or for more info, email email@example.com, or see Peace House Newsletter at peacehouse.net for more information.
If you have time, money or housing to offer, email Tia Laida Fe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Email 600- to 700-word articles on all aspects of inner peace to Sally McKirgan at email@example.com.