**Recycled post from May 14, 2014**
It has long been an ambition of mine to start a discussion around privilege on this blog.
I have made numerous attempts, all of which have been abandoned for one reason or another. It is an uncomfortable but oh so necessary topic.
A few weeks back I completed this quiz on buzzfeed.
It got me thinking about the meaning of privilege and how insidious it really is. It’s greatest “trick” is its invisibility because those who have it don’t always know it and that automatically gives them license to be oblivious to its real effects. It’s the “have nots” that are made so acutely aware of what they are lacking yet the “haves” carry on in their normative bubble. For a really great albeit lengthy dissection of this phenomenon, check out Peggy McIntosh’s piece “White privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack“.
In truth, living in South Africa has afforded me the opportunity to be made aware of and actively negotiate my identity as a white person, historically privileged and yet more accountable for this then perhaps others from the far corners of the globe are.
But after completing the quiz I realised that race is just one aspect of my identity for which I am privileged.
So today, on this Gratitude Wednesday, I am going to explicitly state that which I am grateful for in terms of how if relates to this privilege.
I am grateful for being born white. Although I am at times pretty envious of the swag and general cool that emanates from black people (let’s face it, white people are pretty uncool in general), I am grateful for the fact that I am afforded a number of automatic privileges based on the colour of my skin. If you are white and you don’t know what I’m talking about, Peggy’s article should have set you straight. I am grateful because I am not entitled. I do not think I deserve this and I acknowledge its unfairness but I cannot escape it either and so while I continue to reap the benefits, at least I can offer my gratitude and humility in return.
2) SEXUAL ORIENTATION
I am grateful that I am heterosexual. I did not think I needed to be grateful for this because it is the default sexual orientation, right? Wrong! Our world is designed to privilege heterosexuality. Those that are not hetero are made to feel “other”, strange, deviant and in some cases down right wrong/evil. I am grateful to never have to face the stares, the rejection, the abuse, the violence, etc. that is directed at people who are not heterosexual.
I am grateful that I am English speaking. I am a terrible bloody English speaker – lazy and arrogant – because I don’t have to learn another language to get by in the world. Everything is set up to privilege my language. I don’t have to be laughed at for my poor pronunciation or my lack of comprehension. Education and work have come easy for me because I had a ticket to the world – native level English. I have tried to learn 4 foreign languages and I know how difficult it is. I have the utmost respect for anyone who speaks English as their second language because it is my privileged position that makes it mandatory for them to adapt.
4) CLASS/SOCIO-ECONOMIC STATUS
I am grateful that I am middle class. The very notion kind of makes me sick – signified by a bland, homogenous brand of peeps, the whole nuclear-family-white-picket-fenced-communities are nothing like what my dreams are made of. But I am grateful nonetheless. I was not born into poverty, which I have seen from a distance and do not wish to experience first hand. Just like my race, my class gives me access to a number of social groups and experiences that I would have been otherwise excluded from.
But I am also grateful for that which I don’t have. Although middle class, I was not born into a rich family. My father was an academic employed by the university and retired before my birth. My mother is a teacher. Although there was always food on the table, I still never had many luxuries. I knew about saving and budgeting and about limits and “going into the red”. I am grateful that I am not one of the super rich who is so out of touch with reality that their biggest anxiety is that they might have their diamonds stolen out of their Bakoven beach house while they’re holidaying in the south of France. I pay for my bills. Although I have received support from my family, I have always worked and understand the value of hard work and determination to get where I want to go because there isn’t a comfy trust fund to catch me when I fall.
I am also grateful for being born a woman. I mean, jees, I’m already white – being white and male would just be too much 😉 No but seriously, I am grateful for being a woman because I am acutely aware of how the world is still set up to disenfranchise me and limit my success. Although this is changing and I am particularly grateful to be born in this age and not in previous centuries (even though I would have loved to have worn those outfits!) I have to recognise that there are still countless ways in which our social and economic systems are set up to privilege men over women. I am also aware of how much of a struggle it is to challenge the status quo in terms of how women are allowed think, dress, and act. But I am grateful to have this first-hand experience of being on the wrong side of the gender divide. Although privilege has its advantages, being part of a minority or disenfranchised portion of the population really helps to create a sense of community and solidarity.
I am 100% Jewish by blood. Both my parents’ families are 100% Jewish. I, however, am Jew – ish. I say this because I was not brought up religious and actually went to Christian schools although I was technically not expected to participate in any religious activities. I am not atheist either. I have had the freedom to believe what I want, which is a great privilege. I am grateful that I have not experienced persecution based on my religion. This cannot be said for my ancestors. My great grandparents were murdered at the concentration camps of Auschwitz during the Holocaust making the concept of religious-based genocide very real for me.
Of course there are a number of other very important elements of my identity and aspects of my life history that privilege me but this is a good start.
BUT NOW I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!
1. WHAT MAKES YOU PRIVILEGED?
2. DO YOU THINK ABOUT YOUR RACE, GENDER, CLASS, SEXUAL ORIENTATION, RELIGION, ETC. IN TERMS OF PRIVILEGE?
3. WHAT DO YOU DO ABOUT IT?
Please share your stories #onthecouchwithcarly
xx Carly xx