Youth Blog – Pronouns & Privilege: A Change of Perspective
This article was written by Jaeson Kaylegian, IMPACT Intern.
Let me give you a situation: You’re about to talk to someone who you have never interacted with before. You don’t know where they’re from, their gender, their race or ethnicity. All you know is their name. What do you do? How do you act?
Unfortunately, many people allow predetermined ideas based on former personal experiences, social norms, and stereotypes to determine how they interact. This is often subconscious – maybe you’re not aware of it happening – but the anticipation of an expected “norm” based on your own social experiences and cultural practices can set up a situation where you prematurely judge and/or offend others. Maybe the worst part? We forget the importance of leaving expectations behind and getting to know people as they see themselves.
Whether it’s due to naivety, arrogance, or a mixture of the two, believing that others will experience things just like us is a critical mistake, but also an opportunity for learning. I, like many others, have used words that were intended to be neutral or harmless but were actually a result of assumptions about other people.
This lesson has never been clearer to me than as an intern with IMPACT, an organization that engages youth and young adults of very different racial, ethnic, gender identity, and sexual orientation identities. The experience that I’ve had working with such a diverse group has given me the opportunity to leave expectations at the door and allow each new person I meet to paint the picture of who they are on the blank canvas that is my perception of them.
Admittedly, at first I was guilty of allowing my own background to dictate my expectations, and I, without a second thought, used characteristics like how people look to decide how I would interact with people. As a Caucasian American straight male, I don’t face the minority stress (see this IMPACT article and blog) that has become commonplace for so many who come to IMPACT, and this lack of experience lead to a “blind spot” regarding the experiences of other groups. For example, at first it didn’t occur to me that someone might prefer to use pronouns that didn’t match their gender – or rather, the gender I assumed they were based on physical appearance. I made an assumption, without stopping to ask how people see themselves.
This greatly bothered me and led me to make a determined effort to stop and think more critically about my interactions with other people. It also made me think, what would the world be like if we saw people as they see themselves? It is my hope that more people will find the inspiration to treat every individual as one of a kind and not let predetermined ideas influence perceptions.