Gratitude Wednesday: Show me Your Privilege

 In All, Gratitude

**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“.

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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.

1) RACE

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.

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3) LANGUAGE

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.

6) GENDER

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.

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7) RELIGION

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

 

 

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Showing 4 comments
  • Nas Hoosen
    Reply

    1. WHAT MAKES YOU PRIVILEGED?

    I suppose the obvious one here is that I’m a man in a world that values men above all else, but even more than that, I think it’s that I was born into (pretty much) post-apartheid, middle class South Africa at a time when that became the safest possible place to be as a South African.

    My grandparents and parents worked hard for decades to make sure that my siblings and I had a strong foundation from which to begin our lives, and continue to support us as we’ve continued to move out into the big, bad world ourselves, start our own businesses and do our own thing. There are millions of South Africans (and people all over the world, I suppose) who haven’t had it as easy as I have, and who don’t have the same support system that I do. Their parents struggled more than mine did and so they never had the strong foundation that I did to do the things that I did, and make the decisions that I have.

    2. DO YOU THINK ABOUT YOUR RACE, GENDER, CLASS, SEXUAL ORIENTATION, RELIGION, ETC. IN TERMS OF PRIVILEGE?

    I think more than anything I think about the way my gender allows me certain privilege. While my parents have never been particularly religious and have always been ‘outsiders’ even within their own cultural sphere, I often see how other members of my family hold men in particularly high regard and how women, while not undervalued, are treated a little less reverently. Respectfully but with less praise driving it in the end.

    3. WHAT DO YOU DO ABOUT IT?

    I try my best to live my life with the understanding that there are systems of privilege in place that put each of us in the positions we’re in, and I do what I can to challenge them when I feel it’s appropriate. It’s often difficult to do but I try my best to see through the onslaught of “mainstream” perspective that is pushing back against broader representations of all people, and hope that what little I can contribute to the whole will help shift people’s mindsets in small and big ways, hoping to provide them a certain degree of enlightenment towards a better, more representative world. There’s lots of “hoping” in this answer, which only makes me feel I can do more actual, tangible stuff.

    • Carly
      Reply

      Hi Nas

      Thank you for sharing. I really appreciate that you took the time to think about your answer and that you have the humility and insight you have. I think that there is a lot of “hoping” that is needed to make this world better as cheesy as that may sound. I like that your efforts are about consciousness-raising and about owning and making known one’s privilege because I think that there are moments when one can drop into guilt feelings and those are just not helpful for anyone. Take care and please feel free to share your thoughts as you continue on this journey. Carly

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