A phrase commonly echoed within social justice work, according to Ashley Patterson, is that the bulk of this type of work cannot fall only on the shoulders of the people who benefit most from it.
The work is hard, the passion behind it profound
“So, eventually, poor people and people of color cannot always be the ones who are doing this work,” she said.
“I believe the infusion of an equity-oriented stance into the world-view of young people and future teachers will help prevent other young students who feel marginalized in their school settings from struggling. For me, teaching social justice coursework at both the collegiate and high school levels is an excellent vehicle by which to foster positive change,” Patterson said.
Her message to her students at both the collegiate and scholastic levels is direct. “One thing I’m constantly saying to my group is the purpose of our work is not to have you all walking around feeling guilty about living a life that really had nothing to do with you and your personal choices,” Patterson said.
“You’re here because of decisions that people before you made and you didn’t have power in those decisions. There’s not much going to be benefited by you abandoning or denouncing your privilege because it’s really not possible.”
Instead, Patterson borrows an explanation she came across in her own study of social justice and tells her students that white privilege in our country is like a debit card that constantly reloads itself.
“Even if you put yourself in a sticky situation one day by speaking up or speaking out on injustice in a way that some people really don’t like in the moment, at the end of the day, your white privilege card is going to be reloaded to maximum capacity … so what do you lose by taking that risk?” Patterson said.
“If the privilege is there, and it’s going to be there, what can we do to ensure that we’re not making purchases that hurt other people?”