Be a Humanitarian: Notice Your Privilege with Social GGGRRAAACCCEEESSS

Be a Humanitarian

Tips by Laura Donohue

No, my cat didn’t just roll around on my keyboard (although he does do that sometimes). It’s a real acronym and it’s packed with information! 

Social GGGRRAAACCCEEESSS is a shorthand way to recognize the diversity and difference that exists in our lives. Each letter stands for a different aspect of our identity. Some of these identities can be visible or invisible. To be competent, socially aware, and sensitive activists, it’s imperative that we take into account the impact that our identity can have on others, and vice versa.


My cat in arms, Karl Marx, PhD, helping me smash capitalism and patriarchy one paw at a time.

This nifty tool was created by John Burnham and Alison Roper-Hall around the 1990s. It was originally designed to help family practitioners develop reflexivity — in other words, looking inside yourself to try to understand how outside influences make you think, feel, and act. By learning to recognize these feelings and their impact on how we interact with the world, we can better understand the lived experience of others.

I’ll give a personal example. I’m a social worker who works in child protection. As such, I work with families from many different backgrounds. As a cis-gender white woman from a middle-upper class background, I need to understand the impact my presence will have on families who are minorities and living below the poverty line. 

This is compounded by the fact that I’m in a position of power. When I meet with families, I acknowledge our differences and explain that I’m not an expert on their lived experience. I humbly ask to be invited into their lives and integrate their identity into my interventions. 

When talking about knife crime with young black people, I will specifically ask what it’s like walking down the street as a young black person knowing that knife crime disproportionately affects people of color. I then recognize my own discomfort when discussing race. I can feel the frog in my throat right now clawing at me. Trying to tell me it’s taboo to talk about race and reminding me of guilt I feel for being born with privilege. But that’s for me to deal with on my own time by reviewing my Social GGGRRAAACCCEEESSS.

After looking below at the list of Social GGGRRAAACCCEEESSS, I want you to try this exercise:

  1. Pull up the list of Social GGGRRAAACCCEEESSS with a partner. For your first time, find someone you’re comfortable talking to.
  2. Set a timer for one minute and go through the list as quickly as you can. Discuss your own Social GGGRRAAACCCEEESSS and what similarities and differences there are between you two. Don’t worry, it’s by design that you won’t get through all of them!
  3. Afterwards, circle the ones you discussed. How were you able to identify certain GGGRRAAACCCEEESSS? Were some more difficult to talk about than others? Ignoring the time constraint, why didn’t some of your Social GGGRRAAACCCEEESSS come up?

To be a good activist, it’s vital to integrate reflexivity into our practice. It’s what keeps us humble, competent, inclusive, and effective.


List of Social GGGRRAAACCCEEESSS

I’d love your feedback on this exercise! Feel free to shoot me an email to let me know what you think.

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