Understanding My Privilege
I’m not quite sure why I have avoided writing any particularly more difficult lifestyle posts thus far except perhaps for fear of backlash and yet, whilst I have nothing against bloggers who stick to more frivolous subjects, I feel this urge to address more important issues. Then after reading the fantastic collection of essays from Roxanne Gay, Bad Feminist, I felt like I needed to delve into a subject that is far from my comfort zone. In the book she addresses a number of issues, detailing her experience growing up as a child born to immigrant Haitian parents in the USA. It got me thinking, and I realised I couldn’t ignore this anymore.
See I know I regularly spout on about gratitude and the need to be thankful for all we are given in life, but there is one aspect of my own that I haven’t really acknowledged: the colour of my skin.
Growing up in a 90-something percent white population town my white privilege was so pervasive that it completely blinded me. Sure I had a few friends with differing heritages but if I’m honest I didn’t make much of an effort to think about how my clearly English name would affect my chances in life.
Then I moved to university. A university where the 175 students in my year (it’s very small) hail from over 72 countries and speak 61 languages. Either the world got meaner (unlikely) or I started paying more attention (probably), and suddenly my privilege was unavoidable. Living in New York this summer, reading about the brutalities committed by the police through prejudice and just seeing cops on the street is making me think. I actually can’t comprehend not feeling protected by law enforcement, and being scared of the consequences of interactions with police.
Privilege comes in so many different forms that it’s almost impossible to comprehend in it’s entirety. Am I privileged because I’m white? Middle class? I have a double barrelled name? Even my English accent in America has made people think of me differently. Does someone who’s upperclass in Pakistan have more privilege than someone working class in Canada?
It’s also an uncomfortable reality. How should I respond to it? Does this mean I don’t deserve the good things that happen to me?
I don’t have any of the answers to these questions, but that’s not the point. At least if we ask we’re engaging in the dialogue. We’re contributing to a conversation of great importance, that can no longer be ignored. But more than that, we need to listen.
Anyone in a position of privilege should be listening and supporting those who are not afforded the same advantages as them. When I first started looking to others to see how I should respond to my privilege it was the most prominent point in almost every article, every discussion, every opinion piece that I read. Listen to the stories of others, and believe them. Don’t feel guilty, or get defensive; people are not accusing you of being racist, sexist, classist. They are just pointing out the advantages that come from what ever feature in your life is viewed favourably by society.
There are a wealth of articles more eloquent and informed than I on the subject, but as a feminist I couldn’t sit back and not implore those around me to care about equality in all it’s forms. I also highly recommend the book Bad Feminist for providing an interesting, nuanced and understandable take on the issue of race.
If you’ve stayed with me this far, thank you. It often feels like there is little we can do is this messy ugly world of ours but I didn’t want to let that stop me. Now go read resources better than I!