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Learning at its Best

I Am That One Percent

I also wrote an entry about this in my Ditch That Word blog.

Quinn the Business Bohemian meets me for coffee.  Both of us drive our vehicles without a question of whether they will start.  Both of us pay our two-fifty without thinking about where we will get our next meal.  We talk briefly about the Occupy Everything protests.

“On a global scale, we are the one percent,” he reminds me.

I think about a picture of protestors.  Two of them tapped away on MacBooks that were manufactured by labor in underdeveloped and developing countries.

“I went to a birthday party a few weeks back and I was the racial minority.  It felt uncomfortable.  I forget the power inherit in this sense of comfort that you feel,” I tell him.

“I wrote a blog post recently about being a man in the business world.  If I was a woman and acted the way I do, people would call me a bitch,” he explains.

“The tough part of inheriting injustice is that it affects everyone, both the victims and the beneficiaries.  We never asked for this power, but we haven’t exactly let go of it,” I say.

We talk for awhile about our privilege and the myth that we have gained our place through hard work.  We are the product of privilege.  In both a geographical and historical context, I have the winning lottery ticket.

So, it has me thinking about the protests and the notion of “the other 99%” and “occupying” space.  For all the talk of occupying Arizona, the reality is that I live on occupied land, taken by conquest first from indigenous nations and then from Mexico. I can complain about trust fund babies and nepotism, but I am the beneficiary of a geographic trust fund. By accident of birth, I inherited white, middle class privilege in ways that I am still coming to terms with.

I struggle to come to terms with what to do with this reality.  As a teacher, it means I approach students with the knowledge that I have to step down humbly in ways that I might not in the suburbs.  It means I have to remind parents that they should hold as much or more power than me (despite being marginalized).  It means I have to be honest in teaching social studies instead of being “neutral.”  I need to tell students about American conquest and genocide.  It’s why I might show up to an “Occupy Phoenix” protest, but I will definitely show up to a protest regarding immigrant rights.

It gets trickier in our neighborhood or at church or in other social contexts.  I don’t think there is a how-to list of dealing with power and privilege.  However, I believe that awareness and humility have to be part of the solution.


About John Spencer

I teach. I write. I live. I want to do all three authentically.


7 thoughts on “I Am That One Percent

  1. I’m not suggesting that we let the 1% off the hook. I am, however, suggesting that if I fail to see things from a global perspective, I will participate in occupying with a sense of anger and arrogance that misses my own role in power and privilege.

    Posted by John T. Spencer | October 13, 2011, 12:57 pm
  2. Maybe all of this upheaval occupying wherever will humble all of us to remember we all occupy the earth as one humanity. We all belong. Money, prestige and power should not be the cornerstones for membership, but we cannot excuse anyone in America who hasn’t found a way to be successful in other ways. The earth belongs to all of us, but other people’s earnings do not. We are the most generous people on earth. The USA contributes more to the global welfare than any other country. When a child is born, the potential is already there. Overcoming obstacles and barriers growing up is a challenge for everyone, of all colors and all material wealth. Only in America can the very least of us has the most to gain from hard work, determination, commitment and luck to go on to greatness unknown in other countries. You owe no one an apology for some of the ease in getting to where you are. But, make no mistake about it, you didn’t do it alone, it took a collective set of skills and knowledge and a whole lot of luck. Those are things ALL people can get for themselves. It’s our inherent potential. Always there. Always possible. So, 1%ers out there…live humbly in gratitude, share what you can, do all you can for others and mentor others through encouragement, not arrogance. Teach your children (your baby looks adorable!) about ALL people and grow them up with a generous heart, curious mind and healthy thinking. How nice that you are able to give so much back to those who haven’t found their way yet. You must be an awesome teacher! What’s not to love about living in gorgeous Arizona…from October – May?

    Posted by Sandy | October 13, 2011, 1:30 pm
  3. So are we all in this together — “But, make no mistake about it, you didn’t do it alone, it took a collective set of skills and knowledge” — or does success depend on “a whole lot of luck” and the “things ALL people can get for themselves.” Community or bootstraps?

    Posted by Nance Confer | October 13, 2011, 6:13 pm
  4. And, no, John, none of us should let the 1% in this country off the hook. Nothing going on anywhere else in the world excuses their behavior.

    Posted by Nance Confer | October 13, 2011, 6:15 pm
  5. John,

    I think there are “how-to” lists about dealing with power and privilege but we seldom see them for what they are. They often seem ‘second nature’ to us adults and sometimes we do not wish to recognize because they cause us discomfort when we do.

    Hidden in plain sight, most in the U.S. learn those lists while attending school. Learned through daily school and classroom ritual and by studying texts and materials approved by school boards, students learn ‘acceptable’ methods of dealing with power and privilege; they learn ‘how to behave’ and be ‘good Americans’.

    The education system presents you a “Catch-22” situation – finding a balance between being a teacher and relatively privileged human being is difficult.


    Posted by Brent Snavely | October 14, 2011, 8:13 am


  1. Pingback: October 15th #Occupy Phoenix | hernespeaks - October 16, 2011

  2. Pingback: Occupy Wall Street, Phoenix Edition: Will They Vote For Obama Again? In Their Own Words « Sago - October 17, 2011

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