The Rows Behind You

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.

Last night I adapted the following activity (found online) with my students after a discussion on the psychological impact of the grand jury decisions (and precipitating events) in Ferguson and in NY for the officer who choked Eric Garner. Some didn’t see it impacting their particular clients or how they function professionally in our field. I had them write their names on a paper, ball it up, and try to throw it into a freshly lined trashcan at the front of the class, but they had to shoot from wherever they were already seated. We pretended that whoever made their shot would get an “A” regardless of how they were performing in the class.

Of course, those in the back complained it was unfair as others in the rows ahead of them practiced their shot. After everyone threw, I asked those in the front why they didn’t join the rows behind them in pointing out the unfairness. One student, privileged with front-row seating, said the others should have been sitting closer. Another nearer the front said she didn’t even hear them saying it was unfair (she was so focused on “making it” for herself). One student near the back made his shot and stopped mentioning it was unfair. His classmate slightly behind him rightfully called him an outlier. I told them that in reality, they have the privilege of front row seating in life, and part of their JOB is to advocate for the people in the rows behind them.

I told them to remember anomalies, represented by the guy who “made it” despite adverse circumstances (being near the back). Remember that our front-row privilege makes it easier to assume what others should have done differently (like sit closer despite being disallowed to move, or like how they should respond to oppression). Remember how easy it is to completely miss the cries of injustice from the rows behind us because we’re so focused on “making it” ourselves. And once you “make it,” remember to advocate for the rows behind you.

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