the many faces of privilege
Privilege comes in many guises: the colour of our skin, the shape of our genitals, our postcode, our schooling, our connections and opportunities.
Many types of privilege overlap. Being born in a middle or upper class family for example means that you’re more likely to have access to better schooling, medical care and so on. We know this. It is not new or radical.
However sometimes we can get lost in a spiral of righteous and vitriolic anger when different types of privilege are pitted against each other. White man versus white woman versus black woman versus gay or lesbian versus transgender versus…
It starts to get complicated when the black woman has lots of money or the white man is gay or the attractive, accomplished white woman was born in a male body.
It’s as though we are negotiating a multilateral treaty that maps out Most To Least Privileged Members Of Society.
But do you think that the poorest and least privileged members of the human race spend a great deal of time reflecting on the fact?
Do you think they weigh up the relative benefits and milestones achieved by first through to third wave feminism? Do you think they debate the efficacy of rule of law as viewed through the alternative lenses of Marxism, Communitarianism and Neoliberalism?
Do you think they wonder whether the election of a conservative government in this country reflects an increasing global trend of regression on social and environmental issues?
If you have any idea what I’m talking about on any of the above points, you my friend have privilege. The privilege of knowledge gained and a full belly so that you can spend time thinking about and voicing your opinions.
The gulf between the haves and have nots in this country is huge but the edge of the cliff isn’t always where we assume it is.
We assume that white men are the most privileged members of society. To a certain extent that may be true. But then there is the white man I frequently ride past on my bicycle who stands at the traffic lights all day waiting to wash people’s windscreens for a buck.
We assume that the class divide in our society is mapped out by postcodes. Yet I’ve worked in a number of middle class office environments where the cleaners are ignored as they clean up the mess of the nine to fivers.
I am passionate about an endless number of social and environmental issues. I am comfortable in calling myself a feminist. I want to be called out and educated when I say things that make other people feel as though they don’t have the same rights as me.
But I don’t get hung up on whether I am more or less disadvantaged than the next person. Instead I choose to focus on the privileges I do have. Privileges that I haven’t worked for, did not earn nor do I deserve.
These privileges, the most important of which is my education, are my responsibilities. Privilege in all of its forms is a responsibility. A responsibility to help others in the best way we can.
I invite you to reflect on the privileges you have, starting with literacy and an internet connection, both of which you have if you are reading this right now. How can you use your privileges to help others?
How can you contribute, even in the smallest way, to fostering happiness and inclusiveness in our beautiful, damaged species?