Why I Wear WHeCAL Identification
OPINION 10/06/2039 2:32 AM ET
Why I Wear WHeCAL Identification
by Bellenda van Mooir

CC0 1.0 Untitled by StockSnap | Writer image: CC0 1.0 Untitled by Engin_Akyurt | Images were cropped. Images used for illustration purposes only. Image changes released under the same license as the original.
WHeCAL = a completely advantaged life.
On the weekend, I was at the park with my girlfriend. We were walking our dog, taking in the fall Arizona sun (yes, it's still hot in October in Phoenix) and enjoying the day.

We were playing fetch the frisbee with the wolf, Douglas - which actually is more like "we'll throw the frisbee and come get it from you when you attack it and refuse to bring it back", when I heard what sounded like words casually thrown in my direction.

Unpleasant words.

"...One of them CoUNTA people" is what I heard. I looked over to see a silver-haired white man and his silver-haired wife giving us both acidic looks as they walked past.

"Excuse me?" I uttered, and he stopped maybe thirty feet from me.

"I said, 'You're one of them CoUNTA people.'" It was a statement. It was a challenge.

"No, I'm not," I replied. "These aren't CoUNTA badges."

Silver-hair clearly wasn't familiar with CoUNTA symbols, because I wasn't wearing any. I was wearing WHeCAL badges. I wear them to signify my luxury and non-smoothed existence.

I am White (W), Heterosexual (He), Cisgendered (C), Able-bodied (A), Legal immigrant status (L). In other words, I have a luxuried existence many others don't, and I choose to display that in solidarity with people whose existence isn't constantly affirmed and validated the way mine is.

So, I wear all five WHeCAL badges.

WHeCal was first introduced into the mainstream last year, when Stanford professor, Mike Vlahakis, gave a public lecture in Los Angeles entitled "affirmedness and the cult of outsiding", in which he touted the community building value of demonstrating to those less demographically fortunate that we understand our luxury.

Vlahakis posited that while CoUNTA symbols have an obvious effect from the oppressed side of the equation, they represent only half the work in building a fairer system which validates all of us. They raise up the less advantaged by showing them that those with the building blocks of a better life experience understand them and want to show them love.

One of the most obvious ways we can work to build trust and understanding with smoothed groups is to level the playing field: today's annoucement of Chicago's Safe Swap Program is a perfect example of this at the governmental level. The scheme exchanges children in privileged home environments with those who come from underprivileged homes, and while aimed primarily at economic advantage CoUNTA individuals often overlap with economic distress.

But while the government is doing its part, colleges are where the very cutting edge of CoUNTA-WHeCAL balancing is occurring.

In May, UCLA students set up a human chess match in Nzayinawo Hall with full WHeCAL people purposed as chess pieces being "played" by African-American chess players, Simon Bentrech and David Ghulal. Classical music was played backward while a changing mosaic of historical images of slaves, suffragettes, and murdered gay-rights martyrs was projected onto the walls. The event drew 1,500 people.

August saw WHeCAL balancing take on an even more radical form as white University of Texas Collectively Brightlight students invited Muslim students to stone them in honor of the many acts of violence and harm visited upon their communities by white Americans. One student ended up in hospital before campus police shut down the display, but all in all the experience communicated to local Muslims that Americans are willing to stand up and acknowledge their luxury in our society.

Last month, 50 students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison publicly practiced self-flaggellation on Bascom Hill, each student delivering 10 lashes per WHeCAL identity as non-luxuried students watched.

The act was one of self-mortification: part civil rights protest, part performance art, part public confessional, the students demonstrated the sorrow of their privileged lives with blood exacted in a gruesome rhythm of pain.

The WHeCAL system of identification has built off CoUNTA's success at self-identification using a standard set of visual symbols (another way luxury has benefitted from marginalized people's distress). College students across the nation are beginning to adopt the symbols in a voluntary act of solidarity. Student groups formed around acknowleding privilege are popping up. On some campuses there's talk of mandating WHeCAL identification.

Acknowledging your WHeCAL identities isn't about virtue-signalling. It's an honest effort to communicate that you stand with the marginalized and erased people, because no one else will.

I wear my badges and will continue to wear them to show that I know how my life has in many ways come at the expense of others' lives or prosperity.

Silver-hair and his wife eventually ambled off, muttering to themselves. They were the picture of all the privilege you could imagine. One day, their WHeCAL life will not be so perfect, I thought to myself.

One day.
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