This post is really long overdue and I was pushed to write it after seeing a couple of things on my timeline, as well as sorting out my thoughts as I make the move to Washington, DC from Kansas City. I’ve also been trying to be more literary in how I post here and less reactionary. Yet, blogging as a medium trades on allowing anyone to put their ideas out in the world. Also, writing creates a healing release of energy and often the feelings expressed in the blog are tampered down. Or, even better, in the case of things that really need to change, people start thinking about how they need to change. I don’t need to explain myself to anyone, but I am sharing this because it helps me in my process of self-discovery and improving my professional practice. So let’s start with my privileges.
First of all, No. I do not see myself as SOLELY a victim of my circumstances in life. If anything, I have so much privilege (and privilege as defined as the things that you passively are given, based on appearances and advantages). Just to be clear on what I consider my privileges are here’s a bulleted list:
- Master’s degree from a Research I institution, from a department that regularly places people in positions in the nonprofit and government sector throughout the Piedmont Triad area of North Carolina and beyond. Undergraduate degree from another Research I university, that forms the backbone of this site. Both schools have national prominence, well known alumni and would not have admitted me as a student 70 years ago if I was black in the case of my masters alma mater and black and woman in the case of my undergraduate one.
- The choice and ownership of a motor vehicle. I am letting go of said vehicle, but it’s basically because I want to maximize my privileges in my next stage of life, not compound them.
- I’m also able to give up my car and live well, because of how my new city is planned. Said city has high rents and I’m able to afford a not so high, but still high rent.
- I have multiple bank accounts, at national banks, many who are too big to fail.
- I have multiple business ventures, that while have slow periods, have afforded me the opportunity to travel to many places, and create this website and this website and this website, among many other opportunities to make real change happen in communities across North America. I’ve also been employed by many offices and in some cases, in supervisory positions.
- I speak English natively, which by far, English is still the language of global business and the internet. I have access to an app to help me learn other languages.
- I have all of my body parts (wisdom teeth too!) and senses. I have a full head of hair, and that hair grows.
- I present and date as a heterosexual cisgender woman. Some of you may not subscribe to all these different changes on the gender binary, but in civil, secular society, many do and we need to acknowledge basic civil rights in this matter.
However, because not everyone is conscious of how bias and poorly created systems can hurt a person, I consider these parts of my life unprivileged. Not all in the grand scheme of I wish I could change them, but some I do wish would not create barriers to my wellbeing:
- I am a descendent of African slaves, of various skin colors, who live in the U.S. Southeast and speak with the requisite accent. Because some people, both in and outside certain racial groups and nationalities have issues and use skin color to determine who gets to do certain things, who is criminal or not criminal, and sadly who gets to live, this is an issue as well.
- Also, a side note to my prior note is I often choose to wear my hair in it’s natural state, which is big and curly. I also have a scalp condition that makes it look worse than it is sometimes. Trust me, I do maintain it regularly and these curls are healthy and happy.
- Another site note to bullet one: I sound like I came from the U.S. Southeast. People still associate that accent with less education and sometimes a layer of prejudice. I also use slang and other markers of being a black American from the South.
- I am a millennial. While marketers may market to us and we are growing older and wiser, in the workplace and even in some social spaces, there are negative assumptions made about me and what my generation does or doesn’t do.
- Until a few weeks from now, I will have only lived in cities that while are great regional powers, are not considered global cities by the modern definition
- I am a woman. I know that’s a privilege above, but in a world where men don’t always know how to share the world with others, this can be a problem.
- I have a lot of things going on. This at times mean I don’t always pay attention to details. Many of the jobs I’ve worked over the years, thrive on details. I’m more of an ideas person and I have to work twice as hard to make sure the details happen. I hope that one day, more of my income and work can be focused on creating objects and presenting ideas. But until then, this counts as a disadvantage.
- I’m still grieving the loss of my father. Although I was a legal and independent adult when this happened, I lost a major confidant and friend and that hole has yet to be filled, if it ever will.
- I have student debt and consumer debt in the five figure range. While some of this was self-inflicted, it does make me feel ashamed that I didn’t make better financial decisions and I long for the day that I won’t have these kinds of financial burdens.
Ultimately I wanted to spell out my privileges and disadvantages because these do affect my practice of community design. I also wanted to respond to a major concern that bubbled up because I saw a forum on the social media page of a person I respect a great deal, a take down of this article that appeared on the site The Establishment. Also, several people made comments that were also very concerning and troublesome to me about the site and the author and her opinion. I know these folks read this site and I see them all through the year at conferences and I consider them like-minded individuals. Which is why this post really threw me for a loop.
The site, much like this site, centers the narrative of women, especially women of color and how we react to social issues. Sometimes, to people who are not women or women of color, such spaces just doesn’t make sense or seem irrational. And in this case, this article and it’s author attacks the culture of poverty appropriation that’s risen up in recent years and uses her experience growing up as a poor person to explain her concerns with how these trends have been commoditized and used.
It may seem like I’m defending a person who has a few mental issues. There’s no seem to it, I am. Many of the people who would benefit from smaller homes, already bear a burden of shame because they are FORCED to live in small homes. Those homes have had code issues and violations for years prior to the person assuming ownership or rental of the home. It also assumes that the person is in the shape of maintaining any type of home at all.
Remember when I said I had money to rent in a high rent city? Well, there are many people who work honest jobs who don’t. There are also plenty of people who the system has burnt out and who would love to get back to work, but for some reason cannot work now and their mental state has deteriorated. Likewise, there are people who just can’t buy homes to get ahead or even keep the homes they have. We have so many expensive systems that are necessary, such as healthcare and education. Sometimes the system just eats us, even though we try not to get caught.
Again, that site itself supports many of us who are of color, women-identified and who have both OPINIONS and LIVED EXPERIENCE that supports many of those ideas there. Also, just because I have an idea, doesn’t mean I believe it’s 100% valid all the time. And honestly, we’re just trying to not get eaten. (I will note here that they will be running a story on the podcast. Again, support. I however was familiar with the site long before we were approached about the article about the podcast).
Now I will mention that there’s nothing wrong with people making choices, even choices to live in ways we find unsustainable or . However, we do have to let people make choices. And we have to realize those choices won’t sit well with everyone. Also, I think that we can reclaim certain spaces and just because some people don’t respect actual poverty or want to fix the system that causes it, doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy certain things. Otherwise, I wouldn’t get out of bed at all in the morning.
However, it doesn’t mean that we can’t call out things as we see it or express concerns that the message that things like luxury tiny houses, shiny new parks, bike lanes only in wealthy areas and the lack of information on how to maintain homes and increased law enforcement for some crimes, but not others sends. We should be calling out political leaders and public administrators and even some of our own ideas that don’t advance a just society.
Finally, I would have stopped this blog years ago if I really internalized all the criticism I get. Some people feel the name is too militant, even after I explain its intent. People don’t like being reminded that we do have problems around the issues of race, class, gender identity and a whole host of other issues, even in disciplines like architecture, development and urban planning. Many feel like I would do better just doing my community development and planning practice without those things.
But when you strip those things away, we forget that there are people involved. And people come to communities and life with all kinds of experiences. However, I’m a firm believer that there’s room for everyone at the table and we must let them sit down, even if we have to argue a bit first.
And again, even when I am working and I get frustrated when something isn’t being done right or I am struggling to get work done or even if I get visibly angry at certain things, I’m not done with working. I’m not trying to not work hard. I’m wanting to be smarter with working and make sure the energy is going into the right place.
Let me leave you with a very personal example of how one can play and enjoy culture and shiny new things, but still have a critical eye to what needs to be done in the world and also present those criticisms boldly and validly.
Recently my hometown opened a brand-new park, that was built as a public-private partnership at the bequest of a wealthy woman and also with foundation funding and leadership. I was concerned when ground was broken, that much like the park across the street, only certain people would be acceptable bodies there and likewise trouble in the park couldn’t be handled by the right authorities, in the right way, at the right time. We would see any negativity as meaning our city was horrible and the park was worthless as it would only be a space for the rich.
Yet, I’ve not set foot in this park, but judging from looking at the park’s Instagram feed, my friends posting about it on Facebook and all the people who I consider friends who helped build and maintain elements of the park, several who do have times that they criticise various movements and actions of people of power in the city, are claiming this park and making this park thrive. And all kinds of people are in those pictures and those stories being posted and they’re all smiling and having fun.
At the end of the day, I believe we can live smarter, wiser and happier, even when we deal with our privileges and our concerns. I hope that this post makes it clear and I look forward to many more years of community design and various other ventures I find interesting and sustainable to life. Also, if you are in a position to give, please give. Likewise, be open to teaching, learning and growing. I will do the same.
I’m Kristen. I’ve been writing this blog for nearly six years and I love writing about communities, creating communities and designing things. Learn more about me here. And follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.