Molly Secours challenges white privilege and injustice at Elon University’s second-annual Diversity Leadership Conference

APRIL 2, 2011

Marlena Chertock

Molly Secours writes, makes films and speaks about diversity and injustice. She spoke at the second-annual Diversity Leadership Conference at Elon University on Saturday, April 2. Photo by Marlena Chertock.

“Everyone living in our culture, in America, experiences a culture of white dominance,” writer Molly Secours said. “It’s how our culture was set up.”

Secours discussed white privilege among other social justice issues Saturday in Whitley Auditorium as part of the second-annual Diversity Leadership Conference. She spoke in place of Tim Wise, who had to cancel his speech due to illness.

The system and culture of white privilege allows whites to have access to certain opportunities that non-whites don’t have access to, she said.

White privilege is often subliminal, invisible, pushed under the surface, Secours said. But white people must acknowledge and become aware of their privilege, she said.

The most powerful tool that is used is internalized racial bias, she said.

Not understanding whiteness is an issue, according to Secours.

“Being white is not a problem,” she said. “It’s a lack of consciousness around what it means to be white. Whiteness comes with advantages in the system. We didn’t create the system, we’ve been born into the system.”

People grow up in an environment and internalize this notion that they are deserving or entitled without understanding that this privilege is unearned, she said.

“We need to deal with this notion of white privilege because it’s a fantasy,” she said. “We need to reckon with it.”

Secours, a cancer survivor, compares racism to her defeated disease.

“When you say the word ‘racism’ and talk about privilege, people become blinded, they shut down, their heart starts racing up and we can’t even think or talk,” she said. “It’s the same as the first time I was told I had cancer. I couldn’t even speak.”

Secours often speaks on television, radio shows and at universities about diversity and injustice. Graphic by Marlena Chertock.

It’s a problem that people can go through life without questioning what it means to be white in the world, Secours said.

“By doors opening for you, doors slam shut for other people,” she said. “We need to recognize this.”

If people are wondering where to look to see the signs of privilege and injustice, Secours suggests paying attention to money.

“Whiteness and privilege and money are all connected,” she said. “Every story we have of individual disparity, there is economic component to go with it.”

When she began making these connections in her 30s, she called it an electrical charge. She attended a diversity conference where Dr. Francis Cress Welsing, an African American diversity activist, spoke.

Secours told Welsing she wasn’t privileged because she understood the problem and didn’t use certain words and was, therefore, removed from being a part of the system, she said.

“I beg to differ,” she said Welsing said to her. “We don’t need you to fix us. What black and brown people want from white people is to fix yourselves.”

She went home from the conference crying every night for seven nights, she said. It was the beginning of her education and work on white privilege and injustice.

“What am I going to do about it?” she said she asked herself.

Secours uses art to combat and remain conscious of this privilege, of her race and the impacts of it. She writes and makes films about diversity and inequality. Secours works with social justice issues, such as racism, juvenile justice, white privilege, reparations for slavery and health care.

She often speaks about diversity on television and radio talk shows. One Woman Show Productions, Secours’ film company, produces documentaries about these social justice issues.

She encouraged others to find their passion and use it to inform others and make change. This kind of work can be done in any field, she said.

“How will you go about the healing?” she asked the audience. “What will be your chemo treatment, your radiation treatment to make privilege not invisible?”

People need to be conscious of their privilege to disrupt the systematic injustices, according to Secours. They should explore the ways they’re a part of a system that perpetuates inequality — because they do perpetuate it, even if they don’t want to, she said.

Making others aware of their inherent privilege requires concerted effort and a little bit of a fight, she said.

“Talking about and acknowledging these issues can be very uncomfortable,” she said. “But it doesn’t take anything away from you to acknowledge your privilege.”


Secours talks about the invisibility of privilege

Secours talks about perpetuating or combating inequality

Secours describes thought process of white privilege


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About Marlena Chertock

Marlena Chertock's first collection of poetry, On that one-way trip to Mars, is available from Bottlecap Press. Her articles have appeared in The Washington Post, Marketplace, and WTOP. Her poems and fiction has appeared in The Deaf Poets Society, Moonsick Magazine, and Paper Darts.

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