Uncomfortable yet? Good. 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ALYSSA NOEL
  • Photo by Alyssa Noel

Two weekends ago, I found myself in the middle of a park on a sunny Saturday in Washington state sitting in a circle of people discussing "stretching our edges on race and privilege."

That was the title of the session, which was running as part of the inaugural Refuge Outdoor Festival. While the weekend was geared towards people of colour with the aim of building community through "outdoor recreation, conversations, music, and art that appeal to a diverse and inclusive audience," I sat there as a white, privileged reporter taking it all in.

I won't get into the details of the festival—I was there talking to attendees, facilitators and organizers for a forthcoming feature story—but there was one moment that seems to be worth highlighting.

Including myself, there were maybe three white people out of 15 in this morning session. Before the conversation got started, the facilitator—an energetic and articulate woman originally from Hawaii—asked us to do something that we are so rarely asked to do: name our privilege.

I certainly have many as a white woman born and raised in wealthy Alberta, with an Ivy League education and a career in which I'm entrusted with telling people's stories.

A funny thing happened as I thought about this fact and listened to the stories around me—I noticed I had physically tried to shrink myself, to take up less space in this place in which I didn't really belong.

Unconsciously, my legs were crossed, my arms folded into a pretzel and pressed tightly against my body, my shoulders hunched towards my chest.

"Do you feel uncomfortable?" the facilitator asked after the naming-of-privileges had ended. "That's OK because that's how we feel all the damn time."

It's hard to get people from one demographic to try to understand the experiences of people from another demographic, but that moment drove home an important point to me.

If we are ever going to create a truly equal world, the people who have historically been comfortable in it need to learn to be OK with giving up some of that comfort to make way for, and try to understand, the struggles of others.

This is at the crux of so many issues our society is currently grappling with. Many people are being made to feel uncomfortable for the first time—and frankly, they do not seem to like it.

In the wake of the Brett Kavanaugh U.S. Senate hearings, last week President Donald Trump told a group at a campaign rally in Mississippi, that it "is a scary time for young men in America when you can be guilty of something that you may not be guilty of."

Setting aside the false assumptions behind that statement, at its core the president was saying what many men seem to be saying in the #metoo moment. They're afraid that somehow they will become entwined in the flurry of neverending sexual assault allegations even though they've never committed sexual assault.

To that I say, calm down, boys. According to research from Stanford University, only around two per cent of rape and sex-related offences are determined to be false, which is on par with other crimes.

The real issue is these men (not all, of course) are pissed off that they're being made to feel uncomfortable. They can no longer catcall or grind up on a stranger at the bar—actions that until recently have been dismissed as "boys being boys"—without a little voice in their head saying, "I might get in trouble for this."

Women who might have let that crap slide in the past are feeling empowered to call out those actions because they're finally being taken seriously.

While I might have named and considered my privilege at the Refuge Festival, because of that privilege, I haven't given much thought to the way my gender has impacted how I move through the world—until a recent meme made the rounds on social media.

I can't verify the legitimacy of its origin story—that a professor asked male and female students what they do to prevent being sexually assaulted—but whether the back story is true or not, the resulting list hit me hard.

The men, it showed, said, "nothing. I don't think about." While the women rattled off a long list ranging from "hold my keys as a potential weapon" to "park in well-lit areas."

They were all actions I've taken or have been told to take to prevent becoming a victim—only it had never occurred to me that half the population has never had to confront this.

Our society is currently in flux. We are confronting myriad issues we haven't had to think about before. We're being forced to consider our privilege, think about others and change the way we act.

Do you feel uncomfortable? Good.

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