We are all shaped and impacted by systems the social rank system that overvalues some groups—such as cisgender men, white people, non-indigenous US citizens, adults between the ages of 25-65, and heterosexuals—at the expense of all other groups. The rules, laws, norms, and traditions that condition us to overvalue some groups and undervalue others create a matrix—or a system—that is self-perpetuating and self-protective. Inside this system we are set up to be “agents” of the system sometimes and “targets” of the system at other times.
Agent identities get to set and enforce what is outside the bounds of normal. Agent identities also occupy the majority of decision-making roles in families, communities, organizations and governments. Targets are excluded from decision-making roles and opportunities to accumulate wealth or leisure, have their labor exploited, and are the recipients of extra stressors target members seek to dispel—stressors like violence, pollution, extra work.
Even if you possess all overvalued identities at this time, should you live long enough, you will experience old age with fading physical ability and thus be targeted for exploitation and exclusion. For example, before the age of 25 and after 65 we are excluded from major decision-making roles in society. The opinions and perspectives of the young and the elderly are often ignored or silenced. At these times we are also vulnerable to being targeted with expressions of frustration and experience violence or abuse at the whims of stressed caregivers, from whom we have little protection or recourse.
Since we each possess a unique ratio of target and agent identities, we hold different awarenesses of harm, have different legacies of pain to heal, different expectations of the world to unlearn, and are offered different opportunities to benefit from communal and material support. Subsequently, the skill-building journey toward beloved community looks different depending upon that ratio of identities.
The more agent identities we have, the less aware we are of the injustices of the systems and how certain identities have been overvalued in this system. For us, the focus is on awakening to the reality of oppression and unfair advantage, to building the capacity to hold discomfort, pain and stress without pushing it on to others to discharge or transform. Additional work includes participating in healing; making space and following the leadership of those that have been pushed to the margins, and using our accumulated advantages to support the vision and work of those targeted by the system.
For those of us with a greater ratio of targeted identities—such as Black and Indigenous folks, People of Color, women, LGBTQIA+ folks, differently abled persons, youth and elders—some of our “readiness” work involves deep resourcing, building affinity with other members of our target group, affirming shared experiences of injustice, resourcing sufficiently to use a broader repertoire of responses to incidents more strategically, and re-centering into our power such that we have the capacity for working with allies with agent identities to build beloved community.