We blame society, but we are society by Wimer Alberto

In early January of 2013 I saw someone post the following picture on Instagram.

 w aberto

I do not know who created the image or how it began circulating around the Internet. Regardless of its origins, the image resonated with me. I spent a great amount of time attempting to dissect the message behind the image. The more I thought about the image, the more frustrated I became.

My frustration came from the way we use the term “society” when it comes to social justice conversations. When we engage in these conversations we use of the term “society” as a way to deflect responsibility. We do this because, well, it’s the easy thing to do. To accept one’s membership within to society is to accept responsibility for the same injustices we try to combat as social justice educators.

The truth of the matter is this; we do not have the option, nor the privilege, of opting out of our membership to society whenever we feel that it’s convenient to us.  We should not embrace our membership to society whenever we make strides in the area of social justice, only to distance ourselves from, and blame, society whenever we feel it is convenient to us.  Collectively, we all participate in and comprise this thing we call “society”.

When it comes to social justice conversations we are very in tune with society and its subsequent impact on the individual. As social justice educators, we need to shift our focus away from this and focus on its inverse. That is, rather than focusing so much on how society impacts the individual; we need to place an equal (or greater) amount of emphasis on how the individual can impact society. It is only then that we can begin to engage in a discourse than can continue to foster real change.

What are your thoughts on how we use the term “society”?  How have you challenged students to recognize that their role within it? How do you help others realize the potential impact they can have on society?

Wimer Alberto is a Resident Director at Binghamton University.  He is an active member of the ACPA Latino Network (@ACPALN) and NEACUHO (@NEACUHO) Connect with him by visiting http://www.about.me/wimeralberto or http://wimeralberto.wordpress.com/

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5 thoughts on “We blame society, but we are society by Wimer Alberto

  1. Alberto – I was just having this conversation the other day after some folks were upset about things happening because of “the administration” – and had to remember that we are the administration and that we all have a role in what happens. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Vu Tran says:

    Thanks for this Wimer. I think it would be useful to connect this idea to the concept of responsibility. I would agree that individuals do not have the option of opting out of society, but there IS a privilege of opting out of responsibility. Individuals who don’t experience certain types of oppression can either opt into or out of responsibility for that specific oppression. For example, as a heterosexual person I can either opt into attending LGBT programs on my campus or opt to spend my time in other ways.

    As for the concept of “society”, I think what happens is that people (myself included) feel overwhelmed by large social issues, un-empowered to take any action, or understand their role within it. For example, I recently attended a one-day conference on undocumented students. While I learned a lot and became more informed, I mostly left with an understanding of what the main issues are and how I can apply small action into my daily work/life. I, myself, was not going to single-handedly resolve all issues that undocumented college students experience by myself.

    I also think that when people are frustrated by “society”, there is an inherent sense of judgment. A train of thought that says “I wish everyone would just get it”. When I find myself in that mode, I find it helpful to humble myself by reflecting on what my options are in that moment, and whether I choose to accept any responsibility for what is happening.

    Anyway, those are my not-so-well-thought-out thoughts. Hope to continue to engage in further discourse in the future, and thanks again for the post!

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  3. It’s obviously complicated. I’m not society. You’re not society. Rather, we are society. It’s not about individuals, but about relationships and a larger sense of identity and collective agency. It relates to what the American founders meant when they spoke of such things as “We the People.” Who exactly is the People?

    I was thinking about this in terms of democracy. It is common to hear people complain about our choices of candidates. So, people turn to partisanship and lesser evilism. There is a sense of defeat and fatalism in this response. People forget that we are democracy. Candidates are viable because we make them viable.

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