We hear a lot, these days, about white privilege, male privilege, heteronormative privilege, cis privilege and more. Often, it’s said with snark. People get defensive. We compete over who has less and how it’s not our fault if we have more. No one connects. And nothing changes.
The events in Charlottesville this weekend, where so many neo Nazis went to spread hate in a university town and someone was killed and many more injured, can’t be ignored. It was obvious, with a US President endorsed by the KKK, that this would embolden such hateful attitudes but no less shocking or horrific. Things have to change.
Through staying connected on Facebook and other social media (and with some, in real life), I can see that people who have very different politics feel similarly to me in other areas. Everyone feels that they are doing their best for their loved ones. As far as I can make out, everyone on the planet wants the same things.
Thinking about privilege, even though it’s often used in that sneering way, can be helpful as long as we don’t get sucked into victim mode. This isn’t at ALL to suggest that oppressed minorities should get over it, more that those of us, recognising the privileges we DO have, can make a positive difference by owning it rather than complaining when someone points out that, in some way, we might have had it easier than them.
And that even the most historically oppressed have privilege in other areas (eg beauty). One of my favourite explorations of privilege comes from Anna Guest-Jelley’s book, Curvy Yoga. She writes, ‘Those whom society has decided to favour (read: white, thin, fit, able-bodied, make, heterosexual, middle-class-at-a-minimum) move through the world with greater ease than the rest of us… that’s what privilege means: Some people move through our world with more ease due to certain traits society deems “better”.’
She goes on to talk about ‘thin-privilege’ and ‘beauty privilege’, ‘age privilege’ and others I’d not considered and while her point is about ensuring as many students as possible feel welcome in yoga classes, by pausing to think about our own privilege – with compassion and curiosity – we can hopefully find more empathy for our fellow humans.
I’m really struggling with the notion of people I consider to be racist who, rather than attempting reparation for the horrors of slavery and colonialism, seem to be trying to turn back the clock to resuscitate it. As James Baldwin wrote, ‘Not everything that is faced can be changed but nothing can be changed until it is faced.’
I saw an American on the news last night talking about how his country has been built on genocide (of the native Americans) and slavery and how countries like Germany have reminders of their part in horrors of the past.
They’ve been willing to face their part in the past and vow never again. It’s naïve to think that certain countries are all sorted when there’s unrest all over but, psychologically speaking, it’s a saner approach to acknowledge the facts of history.
How does it feel to consider, no matter how oppressed or invisible you may feel in some areas, you have privilege in others?
My parents were recently laughing at 6 year old me when we were at a friends’ house. They told these friends about how I chose to take a ‘slave’ role in infant school because I hadn’t wanted to be a slave owner / perpetrator. One of the friends immediately said, ‘But you could have set the slaves free.’
This hadn’t occurred to 6 year old me. Now in my 40s, I can see that there’ve been a whole range of ways in which I’ve self-sabotaged because I’ve felt guilty about some of what has come easily and ashamed of what I’ve struggled with.
Do you disempower yourself because you recognise that it’s not fair that your life is easier than others’?
For example, by taking better care of personal finances, someone can do more good in terms of donating more and making a difference than if they underearn and overspend because they feel helpless about the inequalities across the globe.
By speaking up and offering support to someone who is being targeted with any kind of hate speech, someone can do more than slinking off feeling ashamed of their fellow man/white person.
How might you use your privilege for the benefit of others rather than shame spiralling because (let’s face it, none of us did anything to DESERVE where or who we were born to) of guilt or fear?
Feel free to comment below.